The French submarine Nautile has confirmed the worst-case scenario, namely that the tanks of the submerged Prestige, which sank off the Galician coast on November 19th, is leaking its 55,000 tonnes of highly toxic fuel oil into the Atlantic ocean.
Mariano Rajoy, the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, declared yesterday that “small amounts of oil” are leaking from the tanker, which lies 3.5 km. below the surface 270 km. off the Spanish coast. To date, 1,000 kilometres of the Galician coastline in north-western Spain are covered in a foul-smelling sludge which has destroyed a 320 bn. Euro/year industry in shellfish and left 28,000 fisherman without work
Portugal and France are on the alert, waiting to see where the winds and the currents blow the 17,000 tonnes of the oil still at sea, which is believed to be some 20 km. off the coast in a gigantic submerged oil slick covering some 30 kilometres square.
This may prove to be the tip of the iceberg, if the bulk of the oil leaks out of the tanks, which would constitute a serious environmental problem for years to come, destroying the fishing industry in the area and wiping out whole communities in the short term. In the long term, the scenario is a little brighter. There is a product on the market, Cytosol, based on vegetable oils and soya, which attacks the fuel oil molecules. It has been used successfully in previous oil spills in the USA and Japan.
What is at stake is the accountability of those responsible for this disaster. Proving who is responsible and therefore accountable, is a question which would occupy the courts for years to come, since the various areas of law involved, such as Sea Law and laws concerning the navigability of vessels, conflict.
Even if it could be proved that the owners of the vessel should have known that it was not sea-worthy, the onus would then be placed on those who carried out the last inspections and declared the vessel safe, who could in turn state that if the Spanish authorities, at the behest of the French, had not tried to tow the vessel as fast as possible into Portuguese waters, freeing themselves of the problem, this action only ceasing after a Portuguese destroyer intervened, then the stresses that broke up the hull would not have been caused.
Had the Spanish authorities towed the vessel into port and surrounded it with a safety barrier, a pumping operation could have transferred the cargo in safety before the ship broke up.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru
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