The 5 tugs of the company Les Abeilles are based in a port on the French coast. Their distribution is designed to cover all of the metropolitan area’s territorial waters and to minimize response times for possible disasters. Chartered by the French Navy, they are at the service of French government and therefore directed by the maritime prefects on each coast.
Throughout the 20th century, depending on the evolution of maritime traffic, various ports served as a base for intervention by salvage tugs, such as the ports in the cities of Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Le Havre or Marseille. Maritime tradition has given these ports the name of stations. This term is still used as much for our tugs providing assistance to large vessels in difficulty as for the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM), which actively participates in rescue at sea.
Today, vessel surveillance capacities, means of communication, and the intensity of global maritime traffic have led the French authorities to decide on 4 assistance stations to guarantee the best response times: Boulogne- sur-Mer (Haut-de-France), Cherbourg (Normandy), Brest (Brittany) and Toulon Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur).
Each of these ports is ideally located to guarantee the best response times, in each SAR (Search And Rescue) zone for which France is responsible. Placed under the authority of the Maritime Prefects, Les Abeilles teams also work in partnership with the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Center (MRCC) which coordinate rescue operations at sea.
The Abeilles Languedoc, Liberté and Bourbon - Channel & Atlantic ocean
The English Channel is the busiest maritime corridor in the world and the risk factors are varied: currents, sharp coasts, bad weather, fog … In addition, the density of the traffic of large ships represents a permanent danger for the coasts of the zoned.
Each of the 3 Abeilles assigned to the Channel-Atlantic area (LANGUEDOC, LIBERTE, BOURBON) watches over its area of intervention with a close eye on the traffic separation mechanisms. These areas are defined by the French administration in agreement with neighboring states. In 2008, the British government made the choice to abandon the permanent charter of ships dedicated to the protection of the coasts. Agreements have thus been made to intervene in their area of competence if necessary.
There are thus salvage stations distributed along the route of merchant ships, near traffic separation devices (rails) off the island of Ouessant or in Pas-de-Calais, for example. The majority of operations, carried out by our teams based in these ports, consist in preventing merchant ships from sinking or running aground on the French coasts. Since the establishment of these assistance stations, our tugs have avoided 50 major tragedies comparable to that of AMOCO CADIZ have been avoided.
The size of the vessels concerned varies from 30 meters to 400 meters and their weight can sometimes reach 400,000 tonnes. They carry up to 5,000 people and provide dunnage equivalent to 4 football fields.
The speed of response is extremely important for the success of assistance operations. This is why, in bad weather, tugs advance near dangerous areas on the trunk or at anchor, the positions of which appear in green on the maps.
A new mission has emerged since 2011: assistance to the castaways coming from sub-Saharan Africa from the East or from Eastern Europe. More and more of them are attempting to cross the Channel on frail skiffs. L’ABEILLE LANGUEDOC, based in Boulogne sur Mer, provides them with assistance on the orders of the Manche maritime prefecture.
The Abeille Flandre and the Jason in Méditerranean sea
In the Mediterranean, the traffic of goods passing between Suez and Gibraltar is also very important. The different coasts of the Mediterranean coast face large-scale environmental challenges. Protecting the Corsican coasts, which are particularly sensitive from an ecological point of view, is a permanent challenge.
The grounding of COSTA CONCORDIA in 2012 and the collision of ULYSSE and VIRGINIA in 2018 bitterly reminded us of how sensitive the Mediterranean Sea is.
In this maritime zone, the risk factors are linked to the configuration of the coastline, the variety of disasters observed and the suddenness of the storms. This implies a strong capacity for anticipation. The configuration of the ribs is very particular. Experience shows that the coast of Corsica is the most exposed to the risks with very strong downwind winds on its west coast as well as heavy traffic at Cap Corse and in the Bouches de Bonifacio, whose ecosystem is very fragile.
So choosing a home port is less important than covering the entire area. We thus find the 2 Bees – ABEILLE FLANDRE and JASON – based in Toulon and taking turns very regularly on different sites (green dots on the map) making it possible to anticipate disasters depending on weather conditions. As in the Atlantic, various international agreements relating to the protection of the Mediterranean Sea (PELAGOS, RAMOGEPOL, etc.) determine the areas of competence of the French State.
The port of Toulon is also home to the largest French naval arsenal. The company’s ships chartered by the French Navy carry out occasional missions in the service of the Navy. Exercises, helicopter hoisting, escorts, support for military buildings. JASON, replacing the CARANGUE on site, ensures the bulk of these missions, ranging from diving support to the implementation of underwater robots, including anchoring work and of course pollution control which is his mission.