French Riviera launches clean-up as fuel spill reaches beaches

RAMATUELLE, France (Reuters) - Some of France’s spectacular Riviera beaches have been shut as volunteers with shovels and sacks try to rid the coastline of a thick oily residue that washed ashore after two ships collided off Corsica earlier in October.

The clean-up operation is taking place on beaches in the glitzy resort of Saint-Tropez and nearby Ramatuelle, where pristine waters and mountainous backdrops draw tycoons and A-list celebrities.

“Last year it was forest fires, now the pollution is coming from the sea,” said Roland Bruno, mayor of Ramatuelle. “In spite of our misfortune, at least it’s happened in October, when the tourist season is behind us.”

The collision occurred on Oct 8 when a Tunisian ship rammed into the side of a larger Cypriot container ship. Fuel leaked from the tanks of the bigger vessel.

Workers in white cotton overalls and rubber boosts combed the shorelines with forks, plucking black tar from the sands into large orange sacks.

The clean-up mission is awkward for France’s new environment minister, Francois de Rugy, who only 10 days ago said the spill had been contained, downplaying the risk to the Riviera coastline.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Lough and Peter Graff