The oil tanker Prestige has sunk of the north-western coast of Spain along with the majority of its load. It remains to be seen in the coming days whether the oil will leak out of the vessel, bringing an ecological disaster of gigantic proportions to the coast of Galicia in northern Spain and possibly Portugal, which is at the mercy of the Atlantic winds.
Hundreds of fishermen are threatened with financial ruin as they are deprived of their Christmas catch of shellfish and molluscs, already prohibited by the Spanish authorities. An oil slick two hundred kilometres long is already floating off Cape Finisterra, while the first oil from the spill, 4,000 tonnes in total, has already arrived on a long stretch of beaches in Spain.
The incident has brought with it an increase in diplomatic tension. Spain states that the ship was travelling from Latvia to Gibraltar, carrying Russian oil, while the British authorities claim the final destination was Singapore.
The World Wildlife Fund has warned that if the 77,000 tonnes of fuel oil leaks out of the vessel, which broke in half before sinking this morning at 10.30 MSK, it will provoke the worst ecological disaster in history, being two times worse than the Ekkon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.
The 243-metre Prestige was owned by a Greek shipping company and was flying under a Bahamian flag. Its owners claim that she had her last revision this year but it should be remembered that this ship already had problems with the port authorities in Rotterdam (Netherlands) and New York, in 1999.
That the weather was bad in the Bay of Biscay, there is no doubt, with high swells and heavy rains making navigation extremely difficult. However, that an oil tanker should split in to would suggest structural faults which had been hidden from the respective authorities.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru