Wreck Amoco Cadiz
© Nicolas Job / Heos Marine

Memories of a dive on the Amoco Cadiz wreck

  Between Two Journeys

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

In 2003, I dived on the Amoco Cadiz, in Brittany, France. At that time Facebook and Twitter didn't exist... My report had been published only on paper, on the last page of the daily newspaper Ouest-France.

Bitter birthday

This March 16, 2018, it is the 40th anniversary of the disastrous sinking of theAmoco Cadiz, an oil tanker that caused a huge oil spill on the Brittany coast in 1978.

On March 16, 1978, the sinking of the Liberian supertanker Amoco Cadiz caused in Brittany what was called the "oil spill" of the century. (Map: West-France)
On March 16, 1978, the sinking of the Liberian supertanker Amoco Cadiz caused in Brittany what has been called "the oil spill of the century". (Map: Ouest-France)

This sad anniversary made me want to find this article I wrote in Ouest-Francefifteen years ago (already!), recounting my discovery, at a depth of 30 meters, of the wreck of the supertanker. A wreck of sinister memory, which has since become a mythical diving site. So I rummaged through the archives of the newspaper and found my 2003 text, which I had accompanied by a short interview with the cameraman and underwater photographer Yves Gladu.

At the time, I was not yet doing underwater photography. I use here to illustrate this blog post, with his permission, an image of Nicolas Job of Heos Marine, whose the evening edition digitalOuest-France has published a series of photos that I invite you to discover via the link below:
→ The wreck of theAmoco Cadiz in 10 fascinating images

For scrap metal enthusiasts, Nicolas Job is also the author of a book on the wrecks of Brittany, from Brest to Saint-Malo:

Book: 65 wrecks in Brittany

My report fifteen years ago on theAmoco Cadiz (when I was young and brave and still diving in wet suits in the cold Breton waters 😄) was published on August 19, 2003. Time has passed since then, and the Aber-Benoît, the club with which I had dived, no longer exists. But there are now other local clubs in activity (like Aber-Wrach Diving, Koréjou Diving, Madeo Diving) who regularly organize trips to the wreck.

This very particular dive had impressed me a lot. I republish below my story from 2003, exhumed from the archives of the newspaper Ouest-France.

Fascinating dive on the wreck of theAmoco Cadiz

From the oil tanker which was disemboweled March 16, 1978The shipwreck of the Aber-Benoît, off Portsall, in Finistère, caused the oil spill of the century. All that remains is a huge dislocated carcass, lying at a depth of 30 meters. Local diving clubs, such as the one in Aber-Benoît, in Saint-Pabu, organize supervised trips on this mythical wreck. Our reporter has lived the experience.

Wreck Amoco Cadiz
Diving on the wreck of theAmoco Cadiz. (Photo: Nicolas Job / Heos Marine)

9 a.m. Preparations

Quai du Stellach, in Saint-Pabu (North Finistère). In front of the Aber-Benoît diving club, about fifteen people in black suits are busy with air tanks, stabilizing jackets and regulators. Christophe Lecoq and François Leroy, the persons in charge of the club, are waving to us...

9:30 a.m. Briefing

Explore a wreck is already an unusual adventure, even for scuba diving enthusiasts. And theAmoco Cadiz is really a wreck apart. "The tanker was 330 meters long: it is the largest wreck in the world, says Christophe drawing on the board a diagram of the supertanker engulfed. We'll go down to the stern. This is all that's left of the ship. The rest of it has been squibbed and the debris is scattered on the bottom for several hundred yards."

"The wreck lies on a sandbank at a depth of 30-32 meters. The highest part is 7-8 meters from the surface, he said pointing to the top of the stern, stuck in the sand. There is already a lot to see at this location, so avoid wandering off onto the splintered part of the wreck. It's easy to get lost among the kelp." It reminds the main difficulty of this dive: the swell and the currents, very strong at this place.

10 a.m. We embark

Two big Zodiacs are waiting for us. The wreck, there are those "who have already done it" and the others ... Marc, a club instructor, remembers his "first time" on theAmoco : "I had a rather oppressive feeling. I don't know if it's because of the tragic history of this ship, or because I wasn't feeling well that day... Maybe a bit of both. What is sure is that this is really not a dive like the others. The atmosphere is unique, a bit magical. No visible anxiety, in any case, among those who have never "done it" before. Rather, dreamy looks, turned towards the horizon.

"That tanker, says Christophe who holds the helm, it did a lot of damage to the region, twenty-five years ago. Today, it has become a mythical wreck, a destination that attracts scuba diving enthusiasts. Finally, there is at least that much positive in this story." About fifteen minutes after leaving Saint-Pabu, we are on the site.

10.30 A.M. We're diving!

Everyone has finished equipping themselves: fins, lead belt, stabilizing vest and tank, hood, mask, mouth regulator. Hup! Back flip for the launch. "Meet me at the mooring, we'll go down the end."

You have to paddle, hard, there is a current. The most impatient ones already put their head in the water, to try to see something. Not easy. The divers sink, one after the other, holding on to the mooring line with one hand. Underwater, the swell is getting smaller.

10.35 a.m. Arrival on the wreck

A few meters below, in the greenish fog of the water, emerges a dark, gigantic mass, at the top of which dance kelp, those long brown algae that look like ribbons. We are on the back deck. The hull forms a vertiginous drop-off at this point. The bubbles of the first divers, who went down to see the rudder buried in the sand, go up along this rusty wall, dressing it with bright silver pearls. An enchanting spectacle.

Annette, the instructor, beckons us to follow her, on the deck side: in front of an enormous cylinder, where we can still make out coiled cables, corroded by the sea water, she makes a cranking gesture. A winch! We continue the descent, recognizing on the way a piece of railings, bollards (mooring bollards)... Strange feeling of being in a fantastic movie, of floating above a ghost ship.

Still lower, other less identifiable vestiges, with strange, tortured forms. There, a hole shows the fracture of a double steel floor, broken, despite its thickness. Surprisingly, the sand, very white, on which other debris clearly stand out: tanks, pipes, twisted pieces of scrap metal...

We go back up with slow strokes of our flippers, devouring with our eyes every detail, feeling the ironwork that crumbles and leaves rusty scales on our fingertips. We stop for a moment in front of a manhole, inside which the bars of a ladder disappear in the darkness, sinking into the entrails of the monster. But Annette points the thumb towards the surface. It is time to go back up.

11 a.m. Back to the surface

The exclamations fuse. "Fantastic! "" Unbelievable! "Huge! " "And the saffron! Did you see the saffron? » And then, once the gear has been stowed away, the first impressions exchanged, everyone falls back into silence. Enjoying this beautiful dive. Heading for Saint-Pabu. The speedboat is racing along, hitting the sea hard, with no regard for the cold and tired divers, whose eyes, however, still shine with happiness.


Advice from an experienced diver

Yves Gladua freelance cameraman and underwater photographer, lives in Brest. He knows well the wreck of theAmoco CadizHe has dived on it nearly a hundred times, from 1978, the year of the shipwreck, to today.

Why was the wreck forbidden to divers for twenty years, until 1998?
The wreckage had been blown up, to allow the oil to be removed from the bunkers. And one of the grenades sent had apparently not exploded. The site was therefore closed to amateur divers for safety reasons. And then there was also a lawsuit going on. Apparently, the grenade either exploded with another one or was washed away by the current. So the ban was lifted.

Has the wreckage changed much since it sank?
A lot, because of the very violent currents. The bow, for example, has disappeared for twenty years, and we don't know where it is. It probably drifted with the current. The wreck has also turned over a little, and we can no longer see the propeller, which we used to see. As for the rudder, it sank quite quickly into the sand, from which it only protrudes two meters. The place is very exposed to the north-west swell, and I myself was very surprised to see how a building like that could deteriorate so quickly, just with the force of the sea. Within the first few months, the highest parts were destroyed.

What advice would you give to diving enthusiasts who would like to visit theAmoco Cadiz ?
First of all, you must have at least the level 2 diver certificate. Then, always go with one of the local diving clubs. The people who run them know the site perfectly, as well as the weather and sea conditions required for safe diving.

Collected by CB


To see (and see again), the docu The children of the Amocodirected by Olivier Chasle, for the program Littoral on France 3, broadcast on March 11, 2018:

→ Wreck dives: see all my articles

  Between Two Journeys