On April 11, 1991, the 334 meter long, 232,162 dwt VLCC tanker Haven suffered an explosion, caught fire and sank off the coast of Genoa, Italy. The Haven not only became one of the largest shipwrecks in the world, but also one of the worst oil pollution incident in the Mediterranean Sea.
Around 12:30 pm on April 11, 1991, the Haven had completed unloading some 230,000 tons of crude oil onto a floating platform. The crew disconnected from the platform and began a routine process of moving oil from outer tanks into the central hold. As the pump in the central hold engaged, there was a sharp noise before the hold exploded. Instantly, five crewmen were killed as fire erupted out of the hold soon engulfing the fore section tanker. Several boats responded to the scene and rescued the remaining crew who were on board.
Winds pushed the flames from towards the stern. A half an hour later, the Haven had a second explosion causing the bow to slump and the anchor chain to snap. Further explosions eventually caused the bow and part of the fore deck break away and sank. Witnesses stated the fire had flames reached 100 meter high and hull plates melted under the extreme heat. The resulting breaches in the hull released some 35,000 tons of heavy crude oil into the water.
Authorities responded quickly, but the Haven was seven miles off the coast making it difficult to fight. As men fought to bring the fire under control, barriers were deployed around the Haven to contain the oil pollution.
On the following day, the authorities determined that it would be easier to bring the Haven closer to the coast to aid in bringing the fire under control while reducing the risk to the coastline. A tug attached a line and headed towards Arenzano. As the Haven was got closer to shore, a 95 meter long section of the vessel broke off and sank in 480 meters of water.
Around 10 am on April 14, the remaining stern section sank in 80 meters of water. When this section sank, the fire was finally extinguished after burning for more than 70 hours. Some 143,000 barrels of oil was released into the water while some 450,000 barrels were consumed by the fire. Some 25 miles of Italian and French coastline were covered in 1 to 2 inch thick sheen of heavy crude.