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 made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and 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 16th of March 2018 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 was called "the oil spill of the century". (Map: West-France)

This sad anniversary made me want to find this article I wrote in Ouest-France, 15 years ago (already!), telling the story of my first discovery of the wreck of the supertanker at a depth of 30 metres. A wreck of sinister memory, which has since become a mythical diving site. So I searched through the archives of the newspaper and got my hands on my text from 2003, which I had published along with a short interview with the underwater cameraman and photographer Yves Gladu.

At the time, I wasn't doing underwater photography yet. I'm using here to illustrate this blog post, with his permission, an image from Nicolas Job of Heos Marine, whose the digital 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 from 15 years ago on theAmoco Cadiz (when I was young and brave and still diving in a wet suit in the cold Breton waters 😄) was published on August 19, 2003. Time has passed since then, and the Aber-Benoît, the club I dived with, no longer exists. But there are now other local clubs in operation (such as Aber-Wrach Diving, Koréjou Diving, Madeo Diving) who organize regular trips to the wreck.

I was very impressed by this very special dive. I republish below my account of 2003, exhumed from the archives of the newspaper Ouest-France.

Fascinating dive on the wreck of theAmoco Cadiz

Oil tanker fanning itself March 16, 1978, the only thing left is a huge dislocated carcass, lying in 30 metres of water, off Portsall in Finistère, which caused the oil spill of the century. Local diving clubs, such as the Aber-Benoît diving club in Saint-Pabu, organise guided diving tours on this mythical wreck. Our reporter lived the experience.

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

9 a.m. Preparations

Stellach Pier, in Saint-Pabu (North Finistère). In front of the premises of the Aber-Benoît diving club, about fifteen people in black wetsuits are busy around air tanks, buoyancy control devices (BCD) and regulators. Christophe Lecoq and François Leroy, the managers of the club, wave to us...

9:30 a.m. Briefing

Explore a wreck is not a trivial adventure, even for scuba diving enthusiasts. And theAmoco Cadiz is really a wreck apart. "The oil tanker was 330 metres long: it's the biggest wreck in the world, says Christophe drawing on the board a diagram of the supertanker engulfed. We will go down on the stern. That's all that's left of the ship. The rest has been blasted out and the debris is scattered on the bottom for several hundred metres."

"The wreck lies on a sandbank at a depth of 30-32 metres. The highest part is 7-8 metres from the surface, he said pointing to the top of the stern, stuck in the sand. There's already a lot to see there, so avoid wandering away on the broken part of the wreck. It's easy to get lost among the kelps."  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 that ship, or because I wasn't feeling well that day... Maybe a little bit of both. What is certain is that this is really not a dive like the others. The atmosphere is unique, a bit magical." No visible anguish, anyway, among those who have never "done it" before. Dreamy looks, rather, turned towards the horizon.

"This tanker, says Christophe who holds the helm, she did a lot of harm to the area twenty-five years ago. Today, she has become a mythical wreck, a destination that attracts scuba diving enthusiasts. In the end, there is at least something positive in this story." About fifteen minutes after leaving Saint-Pabu, we are on the site.

10:30 a.m. Let's dive in!

Everybody has finished equipping themselves: fins, lead belt, BCD and tank, hood, mask, regulator in mouth. Hop on! Back tilt for water entry. "Go to the mooring, we'll go down along the rope."

We must fin, hard, there is current. The most impatient already put their head in the water, to try to catch a glimpse of something. Not easy. The divers go down, one after the other, holding hands at the mooring line. Underwater, the swell eases.

10.35 a.m. Arrival on the wreck

A few meters below, in the green fog of the water, emerges a dark, gigantic mass, at the top of which roll laminaria, those long brown algae resembling ribbons. We are on the back deck. The hull forms at this place a vertiginous drop. The bubbles of the first divers, descended below to see the saffron buried in the sand, go up along this wall of rust, dress him with quicksilver pearls. Fairy show.

Annette, the instructor, gestures to us to follow her, on the deck: in front of an enormous cylinder, where we can still see rolled up cables, corroded by sea water, she waves a crank gesture. A winch! We continue the descent, recognising on the way a piece of rail, bollards (for mooring)... Strange feeling of being in a fantasy film, of floating above a ghost ship.

Even lower, other less identifiable vestiges, with strange shapes, tortured. There, a hole reveals the fracture of a double steel floor, broken, despite its thickness. Surprisingly, the very white sand, on which other debris clearly stand out & #160 ;: tanks, pipes, bent pieces of scrap metal & #8230;

We go up slow palm blows, devouring each detail with eyes, testing the scrap metal crumbling and leaves rust scales on the 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 bowels of the monster. But Annette points to the surface. It's time to go back up.

11 a.m. Back to the surface

The exclamations fuse. "Fantastic!"  "Awesome!" "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.


The advice of an experienced diver

Yves Gladu, cameraman and independent underwater photographer, lives in Brest. He is familiar with the wreck of theAmoco Cadiz, on which he plunged nearly a hundred times, from 1978, the year of the sinking, to today.

Why was the wreck closed to divers for twenty years, until 1998?
The wreck had been cracked, to allow the evacuation of oil from the bunkers. And one of the grenades sent had not, it seems, exploded. The site was therefore forbidden to amateur divers for safety reasons. And then, there was also a trial going on. Apparently, the grenade exploded with another, or was carried away by the current. The ban has therefore been lifted.

Has the wreck changed much since the disaster?
Very much, because of the currents, very violent. The bow, for example, has been gone for twenty years, and we do not really know where it is. She drifted, no doubt, with the current. The wreck has also turned a little on itself, and we no longer see the propeller, which we saw before. The saffron, it has quickly sank in the sand, which it exceeds only two meters. The place is very exposed to the northwest swell, and I myself was very surprised to see how a building like that could have deteriorated so quickly, just with the force of the sea. first months, the highest parts were destroyed.

What advice would you give to diving enthusiasts who would like to visit theAmoco Cadiz  ?
Already have at least a level 2 diver's 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 to dive safely.

Collected by CB

And also…

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

→ Wreck diving: see all my articles

  Between Two Journeys