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An environmental disaster.

20-08-2013
Spaniards battling to keep a wave of oil slicks at bay with little more than shovels faced a new enemy in high winds and driving rain yesterday as another mass of sludge from a sunken tanker washed ashore. Volunteers and fishermen joined the painstaking clean-up of the toxic fuel oil that has washed ashore from the Prestige, which snapped in two and sank 130 nautical miles off northwest Spain on Tuesday, six days after getting into difficulty in a storm. It could prove to be one of the world's worst oil spills as the ship carried twice as much oil as the Exxon Valdez spilled when it ran aground in Alaska in 1989. Satellite pictures published yesterday showed a trail of oil left by the stricken vessel as it was towed out to sea. She took most of her 77'000 tonnes of fuel oil to the ocean floor some 3.6 km (two miles) below, but at least 10'000 tonnes is believed to have leaked into the Atlantic. A cold front coming off the Atlantic pushed seven known oil slicks closer to the shore of Galicia and created havoc for other ships in the area, hit by a heavy gale. A French ship transporting caustic soda to Britain broke down near where the Prestige first reported distress and was being towed to port in La Coruña by the Spanish coast guard. Officials said the 97.5-metre (322-foot) Pointe de Castel was on its way from La Vera, France, to Cardiff, Wales, when it was forced to shut down its engines late on Wednesday. At the rugged Mar de Fora beach in Finisterre a town meaning Land's End -blackened waves pounded the picturesque half-moon bay after the oil made landfall overnight. About 10 metres (yards) of black sludge covered the sand where the tide had gone out, grounding a sea bird that was covered in tar up to its neck. Rocky areas to either side of the beach oozed with oil about 15 cm (six inches) thick. “More is coming in and the wind isn't helping at all,” said a local police officer as a squall of rain lashed down. As politicians bickered about who was to blame and how to avoid future spills, a Danish pilot who sailed aboard the tanker was quoted on Thursday as saying the Prestige was not seaworthy before it ran into trouble some 21 miles off the Galician coast. “The ship should not have been allowed to sail. It was old and I hoped that it would be sent directly to the scrap yard as soon as it had unloaded its cargo because that's all it was good for,” Jens Jorgen Thuesen told the daily Jyllands-Posten. “The radar and the anti-collision equipment was not functioning properly. It would never had been allowed to sail again if it had gone into a Danish or another European port.” Sailing under a Bahamas flag, the Liberian-owned Prestige was chartered by the Swiss-based Russian oil trader Crown Resources and operated by Athens-based Universe Maritime. A Universe Maritime spokesman in Athens rejected the allegations by the Danish pilot, saying the ship's chief officer had told the company “there were no problems with the radar system whatsoever”. “It is hard to understand how a pilot who had only a short contact with the ship can assess the ship's seaworthiness. We reject those remarks entirely,” the company spokesman said. Local residents expressed a growing sense of anger as oil-covered kelp and flotsam littered the beaches. “It's embarrassing that this could happen in the 21st century,” said one man at a lookout point. Fisherman Jose Montero, one of thousands affected by the spill, said authorities should have taken the Prestige to port while it was still in one piece. “We are all worried because this is our livelihood. This is a huge problem,” he said. The leading Spanish newspaper El Pais said yesterday there were not enough ships to suck up the oil lurking off the coast, and that the government lacked enough floating plastic barriers to protect sensitive areas of the coast. The newspaper also ridiculed a cleanup effort that featured frantic work when a government minister toured a particular area with television cameras in tow - a level of activity the newspaper said did not exist before or after the visit. “The means available are never sufficient, but we have a reasonable plan,” Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told state television on Thursday in response to the reports.

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