During the early hours of 14 December 2002, while traveling from Zeebrugge, Belgium to Southampton in the UK, Car carrier Tricolor collided with Kariba, a 1982 Bahamian-flagged container ship with a load of nearly 3,000 automobiles. Kariba was able to continue on, but Tricolor sank where she was struck, some 17 nautical miles (20 mi) north of the French coast within the French exclusive economic zone in the English Channel. While no lives were lost, the ship remained lodged on her side in the mud of the 30 metres (98 ft) deep waterway, one of the busiest shipping-lanes in the world.
Danger to shipping
Because of the location of the sunken vessel, at a point where two lanes combine in the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) of the English Channel and the Southern part of the North Sea and the fact that she was just completely submerged, the wreck was considered as a hazard to navigation. The TSS at that location is one of the busiest shipping-lanes in the world. In December 2002 French authorities ordered the wreck to be removed, as it was perceived to represent a danger to shipping and the environment. Two more collisions happened with MV Tricolor in the days after the sinking.
Following the sinking and due to its location in a busy point of a shipping lane (the location was on the edge of a turning-point within the TSS of the English Channel), the wreck was initially guarded by the French maritime police patrol boat P671 Glaive and HMS Anglesey (a 195 ft British Island-class patrol vessel), in addition to two salvage vessels and three wreck buoys.
Despite standard radio warnings, three guard ships, and a lighted buoy, the Dutch vessel Nicola struck the wreck the next night and had to be towed free. After this two additional patrol ships and six more buoys were installed, including one with a Racon warning transponder. However, on 1 January 2003 the loaded Turkish-registered fuel carrier Vicky struck the same wreck; she was later freed by the rising tide.
The salvage operation of MV Tricolor was done by a consortium of companies under the name Combinatie Berging Tricolor (Combination for Salvaging Tricolor) that was led by the Dutch company Smit International, and took well over a year. The consortium consisted of Smit Salvage BV, Scaldis Salvage & Marine Contractors NV, URS Salvage & Marine Contracting NV and Multraship Salvage BV. The contract for the wreck-removal with this consortium was signed on 11 April 2003.
Starting in July 2003, the operation was declared complete on 27 October 2004. The salvage method included a carbide-encrusted cutting cable used to slice the wreck into nine sections of 3,000 tonnes each. This technique was similar to one Smit International had used in salvaging most of the Russian nuclear submarine, K-141 Kursk.
The Dutch company C.T. Systems, together with Thales Navigation (later renamed Magellan Navigation), handled the navigational aspects of the operation. The positioning equipment provided the required locational accuracy and after using a side scan sonar, the debris had been located and all the relevant positional information converted to a chart, enabling a systematic search and recovery of the remaining debris.
The cargo of 2,871 new cars – mostly from premium German and Swedish manufacturers including BMW, Volvo and SAAB – was removed from the wreck and recycled for the metal component. Most oil was removed from the ship’s tanks soon after it sank, but during the salvage there was a 540-tonne oil spill, sparking concern.