On December 3, 1985, the oil spill in Matane, Quebec, was one of the largest to happen in the St Lawrence estuary The accident happened on a stormy night at subfreezing temperatures wth wind velocity exceeding 100 km h−1 Ponte-Levy barge was being towed by a tug-boat travelling from Montreal (Quebec) to Bathurst (New-Brunswick) (Fig 1) The barge, 92 m long, was charged with 34 000 barrels of bunker #6 oil To keep this heavy oil from agglutination it was continuously steam-heated at 130°C during the transport With the increasing wind velocity, the cable connecting the barge to the tug-boat cracked and the barge drifted towards the south shore of the St Lawrence maritime estuary The dominant winds are from the north-west On the rocky bottom of the shore, three of the nine compartments of the barge were damaged, releasing around 200 metric tonnes of bunker #6 oil The agglutinated spill spread 40 km to the east of Matane city Approximately 150 cubic metres collected near the Matane river mouth on the west side of the marina dock.

Soon after the accident, a Canadian coastguard ice-breaker was on the scene of the accident and its helicopter located and followed the spill The Canadian coastguard immediately assembled a spill response organization to assist and coordinate the assessment of the problem, the situation of the barge, and the recovery and clean-up of the spilled material The bunker #6 oil was trapped in large quantities of snow and ice, prohibiting conventional methods of recovery and clean-up This mixture of oil and frozen water ended up on the shore and most was recovered using heavy equipment such as pay loaders, cranes and trucks The location of the spill is shown in Figure 2.

A wide range of parameters can be used to describe the degree of oil contamination on the shoreline following a spill (ref 1) According to this author, the most relevant parameter in the shoreline clean-up decision involved the measurement of the area of surface oil cover and calculation of the volume of contaminated sediments.

The Matane river mouth is situated at some hundred metres from the accident site. This river is one of the five best rivers in the Quebec province for Atlantic salmon spawning and adult salmon Salos salar migrates in the summer from the Atlantic to the freshwater rivers for reproduction, so it was of paramount importance to located and remove as much of the spilled oil as soon as possible. As recently reported (ref 2), the danger of contamination of the salmon by oil is greater if the oil remains in the environment until the next summer.

The task force at Matane was formed from representatives of the Canadian coatguards, Environment Canada, Environnement Quebe, the oil company owner of the barge, and those representing the insurance companies.

Fig 1. Map of the St Lawrence estuary and location of Matane City (available in full paper)

Fig 2 Site of the accident and propagation of bunker #6 oil (available in full paper)

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