Authorities along the length of France's Atlantic coast were on alert last Wednesday as a giant fuel oil slick slowly drifted south of Brittany, threatening an ecological disaster. Maritime officials said two navy ships were heading for the slick equipped with floating booms and giant vacuum cleaners to try to contain and pump the oil which escaped from the sunken Maltese-registered tanker Erika
Three more vessels, including a British ship also equipped with vacuum pumps, were scheduled to join them on Thursday and a Norwegian ship was due on Friday. Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said France had also asked for help from Germany and Spain.
Despite the international response of equipment and personnel, stormy seas were threatening to hamper the pumping.