Paris police pull sunken barge from Seine River at foot of Eiffel Tower

PARIS (AP) — Paris river police were pulling up a barge Friday that sank in the Seine, an accident that inconvenienced tourist boats and leaked small amounts of fuel at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

A wave hit the 124-foot-long (38-meter-long) barge Eole II on Tuesday, knocking open a hood. Water poured in and the barge sank in just eight seconds.

Pulling it out was a complicated, two-day effort in a busy section of the Seine during the summer tourist season. More than 500 tourist and commercial boats pass daily on this section of the river, according to river police.

The driver, Jeff Fillietaz, a 62-year-old Swiss citizen, and his assistant were not injured in the accident.

"I saw the boat nose-diving, I asked my assistant to immediately put on his life jacket. I knew that we would not have a long time," Fillietaz told The Associated Press.

"I just had time to see a wave coming right in front of me and I got sucked into the water. I saw my life pass before my eyes. ... I held my breath for 20 seconds, waiting for the water pressure to calm down" and then came to the surface, he said.

Very small amounts of fuel have leaked from the barge, but Commandant Michel Constant of the Seine River police said the fuel is not causing serious pollution.

"Some fuel is getting away from the tank. But contrary to the oil involved in spills, fuel remains on the surface," he said.

The accident forced police to bar boats from one side of the Seine and order boats to drive more slowly in the area, Constant said.

The first and longest part of the rescue operation consisted of emptying 380 tons of grit from the boat with a crane and a digger. Then police divers tried to find administrative papers inside the sunken boat, needed for insurance reasons, and the driver's personal belongings.

An investigation is under way into the accident, including into whether the barge was carrying too much weight.

"It has happened in the past that a barge has sunk in the Seine because of a collision. But something like this, within eight seconds and because of a simple wave ... I have never seen that before," Constant said.

Last week an empty tourist bus fell into the same part of the Seine where the Eole II sank, but on the opposite side.

(This version CORRECTS length of barge.)