French officials are racing to minimise the environmental impact of an oil spill approaching eastern Corsica, with two navy boats armed with clean-up equipment heading to the Mediterranean island.
“We fear that part of this pollution will reach the Corsican coast today,” maritime official Christine Ribbe said.
Two naval ships, equipped with “anti-pollution material and specialised staff”, were steaming to Corsica from their base in Toulon, southern France on Saturday.
Some 80 members of the security forces and rescue services were also being drafted in to aid with the clean-up should the oil reach the coast, local authorities said.
The heavy-grade oil, which appears to have leaked from a ship, was first detected about midday on Friday during a surveillance operation by the local airbase.
By Saturday, officials had detected two large slicks stretching over 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres), one 800 metres offshore, the other 3.5km.
“Surveillance by plane and helicopter mid-morning Saturday allowed us to locate several scattered slicks, some of which are approaching the coast,” Ms Ribbe said.
The oil is approaching Corsica’s Aleria coastline, a 40km strip of sandy beaches.
Local authorities urged residents to stay away from the beaches on Saturday and banned fishing in the area.
Francis Giudici, Mayor of Ghisonaccia, where the beach has been closed, said: “I’m very concerned. There’s also a lot of anger.”
“We really don’t need this at the start of the [holiday] season.”
France’s Ecological Transition Minister, Barbara Pompili, and Minister for the Sea Annick Girardin were both due to visit the area later Saturday.
Prosecutor Dominique Laurens said France’s maritime gendarmerie had opened an investigation into the spill.
“An analysis of maritime traffic in the area is under way,” she said, adding the polluting vessel would be identified.