Oiling the Beach


I’ll call this story the “Shangri La oils the French Riviera” I know there are some

out there other than me who will remember.

While at anchor in Cannes on the French Riviera late in May 1965, Someone

inadvertently made a bad valve line up while pumping tanks around for ballast

and pumped literally hundreds of gallons of Bunker C over the side which

went straight to the beach.

The good news was very little made it to the more popular tourist beaches…the

bulk of it landed on a less popular section of beach.

Every one on the ship who was not on duty had to muster to the


I suppose the Navy purchased every shovel in France that day. All day

and all night under temporary flood lights we dug trenches on the beach.

As the oil laden waves came in and flooded the trench oil would be retained

and the water would go back out. We would cover the trench

then back up and start another one while boats were spreading chemicals

on the slick out in the water to dissipate the oil. It all had the

appearance of an invasion.

Rumors had it that the American government paid damages for many business

along the beach that never saw any oil.

The rumor mill also said that when Shangri La left anchor the screws

kicked up more oil that had accumulated around the ship but I never knew

if that was true.

We heard that the French considered not allowing anchorage to American

war ships after that but I don’t know if that is true either.

George Irvin MM2 63-65

Spitzner, Kurt F., PRAN (at the time)

HC-2 (HU-2 Helicopter Utility Squadron Two had been redisignated

Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Two in July.)

No “years” on board, just a few very memorial months. I cross-decked

from the Saratoga (CVA-60) at the end of their cruise so I could do

a little “brother duty” with my brother who was ships company.

So I was aboard the Shangri-La from June 28 through the remainder

of the cruise, 20 September 1965. Or in other words, just in time

for the big oil spill and the colision.

Strange how badly the Navy can treat a young sailor like myself. The

Saratoga had just finished an In Port peroid in Cannes before heading

out to be relieved by the Shangri-La. Ten days if I recall correctly. Ten days

amoungst warm breezes, warm sands and warm well stuffed bikini’s.

So it was that I was destined to depart Cannes on one ship only to

return a few days later on another.

Anyway word was that some 2,800 gallons of fuel oil were

accidently pumped over the side. Some say intentionally by a

disgruntled snipe but in either case I can recall watching it bubble

up along the starboard side as I watched from the hanger deck.

It may be called “black oil” but it sure looked brown to me. A

chocolate brown and as thick as melted chocolate to boot but it sure

didn’t smell like chocolate. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The first and most immidiate results of the “spill” were the bos’en

mates going wild knowing that they would have to spend the entire In

Port period scrubbing the hull. Next in line to blow their corks were

teh boat crews. All the ships boats would be coated with the mess and

likewise have to be cleaned. We Airedale thought we had gotten off

scott free on this one but that was before the ventilation systems got

hold of the odor and spread it throughout the entire ship.

The guys from the boiler rooms didn’t seem to notice it at all but the

rest of the crew sure as heck did. As would every person within a

couple of miles of the beach before the day was through.

The nice thing would have been to arrange for such an accident to

happen with the tide going out. To move the mess away from the beach,

but such was not Shangri-La’s luck on this occassion. No sir, the tide

was coming in and worse, a gentle offshore wind was assisting it in

carrying the spill directly toward that most prized of all beaches.

The French Riveria.

Being a squadron person, and a helicopter squadron person at that, I

didn’t have to do cleanup duty ashore. On the other hand, I did get to

make several flights over the area. We were assigned the task of

keeping track of the ever widening oil slick. So we flew spotter

flights back and forth along the shoreline locating the mess and

directing cleanup teams to places where the black ooze had washed

ashore. Scooping up the sand didn’t seem to be much of a problem and

to hear the talk on the mess deck each morning it seemed was rather

good duty. What with the audience and all.

But scrubbing the rocks of the breakwater, well, that wasn’t something

anyone actually stepped forward and volunteered for. But that too got

done, regardless of the lack of volunteers or the lack of bikini clad


I also managed to put my brand new 8mm motion picture camera to great

advantage during these flights. Hanging out the starboard door I

filmed miles and miles of oil slick. A simple enough task to be sure.

Just put your heals on the edge of the deck, lean out the door as far as

the gunners belt would allow and film everything in sight. Cool to for there was a

large, 4 bladed, fan just overhead keeping me comfortable. And only a

few hundred feet to the water if the belt broke.

I keep those rolls of film for many years but time and tide wait for

no man and those films have gone the way of many other such memories.

Can’t recall now precisely how many truck loads of sand were brought

in to replace that which we shoveled up but I do recall that it had to

be transported from some distance. Word was that the Navy had it

trucked in from Greece but I can’t lay money on that.

So, after impressing the mayor and all the assembled guests on the

French riveria with our ability to distribute 2,800 gallong of black

oil on their beach and our stearling ability to clean up said mess, we


And so we did and I once again had a ring side seat to watch the show.

As the Shangri-La pulled up the hook and began her move seaward, she

slid ever so gracefully off a rather masty looking oil slick. Maybe

600 feet long as as wide as the ship herself. Or to put it another

way, just enough oil to cover the entire length of the French riveria

with a thin, sticky, smelly layer once again.

Who would have thought that oil slick could have remained in place

that amount of time? And with the ship riding at anchor. Turning 360

degrees with each change in the tide and rolling with the sea swells.

Ah, but someone on the bridge had thought it possible for we had a 30

liberty launch in the water complete with crew and drums of special

solvent. This was sprayed on the slick as Shangri-La made her

was slowly–but not to slowly–to sea again.

The utility boat was recovered on the fly which was a neat thing to

see from my perch in the helo.

The attached image is taken from the same Shangri-La magazine as the

others. Page 10, lower left corner to be precise. If you look closely

you can see a well endowed young lady in a bikini. Aside from that you

can also see Shangri-La crewmen working with shovels to scoop up the

mess and a news photographer with a 16mm movie camera in the

background, right. I think. I believe but I can’t be absolutely

positive, that this man was an official USN photographer documenting

our clean up efforts.

Might have been just some local TV newsman or the local Communist

Party dude making propaganda footage. This was during the height of

the Cold War and they would make propaganda from even the slightest

thing we did. Whether or not we actually did it.

– Kurt Spitzner –
aka Anymouse
USN retired