The French government has pledged legal action after a spill of tiny white plastic pellets washed up on its beaches.

The “mermaids’ tears” are about the size of a grain of rice and are believed to have escaped from a container in the Atlantic.

But the vessel involved is not known, The Guardian reported.

The pellets have been appearing on beaches in Brittany, and in Spain, for almost a year.

Volunteers have been collecting them in Pornic, but admit it is a hopeless task.

The industrial plastic granules, measuring less than 1.5mm, are melted down and injection-moulded to make a variety of products.

Lionel Cheylus of the Surfrider Foundation Europe, the campaign group that organised the clean-up operation, said: “These pellets are often lost [off the French coast] but I’ve never known it this bad.”

Pornic mayor Jean-Michel Brard has filed a legal complaint, along with two other mayors in the region.

The minister for ecological transition, Christophe Bechu, called the pellets an “environmental nightmare”.

He said the government would also be taking legal action “against X” — ie, persons unknown.

Standing together

“The state stands with the associations,” Bechu added.

In 2020 and 2017, beaches in South Africa were inundated with the beads.

Detecting which ship is to blame is almost impossible unless the operator of the vessel or the owner of the cargo comes forward.

In the 2017 incident, Saudi Basic Industries Corp paid for the clean-up of its cargo, however.