On 12 October 1978, the oil tanker the Christos Bitas was sailing from Rotterdam to Belfast, with a load of 35,000 tonnes of Iranian heavy crude oil, when she ran aground some 15 km off the Pembrokeshire coast. 4,000 tonnes of oil were spilled in the incident. The commanding officer managed to refloat the vessel without external help and decided to continue his journey, as he thought there was no longer any significant leak. He nevertheless warned the coastguards of the oil spill.
As the risks of environmental pollution were high, the owner of the ship (Adriatic Transports Ltd) and the owner of the cargo (British Petroleum (BP)) were immediately contacted by the coastguard. BP offered its services at once. It soon became obvious that the Christos Bitas was in fact seriously damaged and that she was still losing oil. Consequently, BP ordered the vessel to stop in order to avoid spreading the pollution.
Response operations were rapidly organised. Three distinct operations were simultaneously set up: the problem of dealing with the Christos Bitas, offshore response and onshore cleaning operations.
Dealing with the Christos Bitas
On 13 October, 2 tankers, the British Dragoon and the Esso York, sailed towards the Christos Bitas in order to lighter her. This operation lasted several days. By 20 October, 26,000 tonnes of oil had been removed from the Christos Bitas.
he question of the wreck of the Christos Bitas was then raised. The cost of repairing the vessel after cleaning and emptying the fuel tanks appeared excessive and the shipowner agreed to sink the vessel. This could however not be done in the Irish Sea because of the damage it would cause to the environment. The Christos Bitas was therefore towed in the Atlantic Ocean, to a very deep water area, 500 km west of Fastnet Rocks, where she would not interfere with navigation, fisheries or submarine telephone cables. She was scuttled on 31 October. An oil slick formed, but aerial observation showed that on 13 November it had dispersed naturally.