A massive, unmanned cargo ship that has been adrift on the ocean is expected to crash into the coast of France within 48 hours unless last attempts to salvage it succeed on Feb. 1.
Ferocious winds and six-meter waves made efforts to save the cargo ship impossible. Vice-Adm. Emmanuel De Oliveira of France's Atlantic Maritime Prefecture vowed their rescue team will do everything within their power to salvage the 535-foot Modern Express.
"If this does not succeed, the Modern Express will run aground on the sandy coast ... between Monday night and Tuesday night," said De Oliveira.
On Jan. 26, the cargo ship, a Panamanian-flagged freighter that was travelling from Gabon to the French port of Le Havre, started to tilt severely to one side. Its 22 crew members held on to the ship's topside railing until a Spanish helicopter could save them.
After being rescued, the cargo ship had begun to drift wildly to the Bay of Biscay.
Currently, the cargo ship is headed to crash in the Landes region, close to the the Landes de Gascone Regional Natural Park and a seaside resort known as Biarritz. The Landes region is a protected stretch of coastline, pine forest and wetlands.
The ship carries 3,600 tons of timber and construction equipment. De Oliveira said the cargo would only cause "limited" environmental impact.
However, the Modern Express also contains 300 tons of diesel fuel that could contaminate and the Landes coast.
If the cargo ship does run aground, French officials had sworn to act quickly to prevent a catastrophe that would affect both the environment and people on the coast.
"We would put in place [an emergency plan] on sea and land in order to process and filter pollutants if they were to be discharged," said De Oliveira.
He said if there was a leak, the rescue team will confine the oil to beams and dams around the gas oil that flows to the sea. Then, they will treat this gas with absorbent and pumps, and quickly empty the diesel fuel from the ship as fast as possible.
Authorities had also compared the Modern Express's 300-ton fuel hold to that of the Exxon Valdez, which had spilled roughly 35,000 tons of fuel.
Meanwhile, the rescue team will take advantage of a milder weather on Feb. 1 as a last attempt to rein in the unmanned ship.