At 9:30 on the night of March 16, 1978, the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) Amoco Cadiz, fully laden with more than 100,000 tons of Arabian crude, went aground off the shore of France's Brittany coast. Its steering gear had failed in a storm so violent that even a powerful rescue tug couldn't keep the Cadiz off the rocks. It was impaled on a rock spire with "a great, grinding crunch," and, as the seas broke it apart, its cargo floated out and covered the sea and the shore in the worst peacetime tanker disaster ever.
The ensuing inquiries and legal battles were bitter, and now that they are mostly settled, author Rudolph Chelminski rehashes it all for us. The first half of "Superwreck" is the gripping story of Amoco Cadiz's final voyage. The second half deals with the aftermath. Throughout, there are plenty of less-than-admirable characters: the 35-year-old Italian ship's captain, who kept calling his corporate bosses in Chicago instead of exercising his own authority when it might have counted; the Standard Oil executives whose penny-pinching budgets excluded proper maintenance and repair of a faulty steering gear; the Spanish manufacturers of the gear; the international lawyers who squabbled profitably over who would pay for the damage as everybody sued everybody else; French government officials who talked a good preparedness game but actually did little.