That time some luxury cars went for a swim outside France
Imagine this. You live in the United States and it's 2002 and you've decided that you want a slice of European luxury for your next car purchase. Maybe BMW, maybe SAAB and the new 9-3 or maybe Volvo and the new XC90 that you saw at that year's North American International Motorshow and fell in love with. No matter what your choice is you put down your order at your nearest dealer and now it's time to play the waiting game, which is pretty standard really. The car is manufactured in said European car factory, then it's loaded to a huge ship, then the ship sinks off of the coast of France. Oh wait, something isn't right here...
That little twist to the arguably very boring waiting period that comes with buying a new foreign made car in the United States, was something that many potential new owners weren't happy about. More specifically, the new owners of around three thousand BMWs, SAABs and Volvos really weren't pleased when they saw that the car carrier MV Tricolor that potentially carried their 2003 model year cars, had sank off of the port of Dunkirk after not one, not two but three collisions in a fortnight.
MV Tricolor before it sank
It was December 14th 2002. The fifty thousand tonne, $40 million worth Tricolor is on its way from Zeebrugge to Southampton, before it's transatlantic trip to the US, where it will deliver its payload of brand new BMWs, SAABs and Volvos. Amongst the cars is one of the first batches of US bound XC90s. All is going well until 2 am, when in the early morning's thick fog, the container ship Kariba collides with the Tricolor. The Kariba although seriously damaged is able to continue on, but the Tricolor is left wedged to her side in 30 m of deep water.
All the crew members were rescued from either the Kariba or the tugboat Boxer. Unfortunately though there was no way to salvage the cars inside, which translated in a gigantic loss for both the shipping company and the car makers themselves. And like that wasn't enough, the ship had crashed in a very busy area within France's side of the English channel, 20 miles off of the French coast. This meant that French police vessels were in constant high alert to prevent any other ships from hitting the Tricolor and making things even worse. Despite that, on January 1st 2003, the vessels Nicola and Vicky managed to hit the Tricolor, despite repeated warnings from the French police vessels. And to make matters even worse, on January 22nd a salvage tug knocked a safety valve off, resulting in an oil spill.
The Tricolor sitting in the English channel
That meant that the ship had to be removed quicker than expected. That gigantic task was taken on by the Dutch SMIT Salvage Company and it happened in two steps. The first one involved removing the remaining oil from the Tricolor, a task that was safely completed on the 25th of February 2003. The next step though was a very ambitious one. As the Tricolor was a huge ship, that was also full of cargo at the time of sinking, it was impossible to pick it all up in one go. As such, SMIT used the same technique as they did during the removal of the wreck of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2001, using a tungsten carbide encrusted- cutting cable that was used to cut the wreck into 9 pieces, at a more manageable three thousand tonnes each.
One of the 9 pieces
All the pieces were taken to the port of Zeebrugge and all the cars inside were sold for scrap metal. The whole operation was officially over on the 27th of October 2004, and is still considered one of the biggest ship removal operations ever. The remaining debris was collected after side scan sonar technology was used to pinpoint various pieces of debris on the ocean floor.
This shipwreck then, is a true testament to the heights human ingenuity can reach. Even though the precious cargo was not saved, an otherwise catastrophic shipwreck in the middle of one of the busiest sea ways in the world was taken care off with minimal damage done to the environment. Try telling that to the angry buyer who paid for an XC90 and had to wait a couple more months..
So what do you think of the MV Tricolor's wreck and salvage operation? Share your opinion in the comments!