Protests as signs of oil slick begin hitting Spanish shores


Up to 200,000 angry Spaniards demonstrated in the capital of Galicia on today seeking better protection for their coasts as 9,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from a sunken tanker threatened to wash ashore.

With worsening weather, the slick of the fuel oil that has been floating off Spain's northwestern coast since the tanker Prestigesank 12 days ago was expected to wash ashore on today.

A stranded gull unable to fly because of the oil spill. Photo: Reuters
A stranded gull unable to fly because of the oil spill. Photo: Reuters

The biggest slick, over 400 yards wide, was spotted yesterday 18 miles offshore and is expected to soil over 30 miles of coastline.

The 180-mile coastal stretch affected by the spill - called the Coast of Death -- runs between La Coruna in the north and Cape Finisterre further south.

Police estimated 150,000-200,000 people responded to calls from fisheries associations, environmentalists, unionists and parties to protest against inadequate coastal protection despite four sinkings off the Galician coast in the past 26 years.

The latest catastrophe has paralysed fisheries on which much of the local economy depends. Up to 15,000 seabirds are reported dead, with 140 beaches polluted.

Thirty vessels with dangerous cargoes sail along the Galician coastline each day, noted Mr Jose Manuel Beiras, head of the Galician nationalist bloc the BNG.

The central government in Madrid had learned nothing from the case of the tanker Erika, which sank off France's Brittany coast in 1999, causing ecological havoc, he said.

Spain still has no specialised anti-pollution vessels to pump up slicks like the fleet rushed to the scene from other European countries following the Prestigedisaster.

Nor were there ocean barriers to prevent spills filtering into vulnerable little streams containing precious seafood stocks.

"We've been here before in 1992, saying the same things, but nothing has changed," said a spokesman of the environmentalist group Greenpeace, in a reference to the sinking of the tanker Aegean Sea.

Heavy weather has frustrated the eight specialised anti-pollution vessels which have formed a barrier off Cape Tourinan.

The French submarine Nautilusdocked Sunday at the port of Vigo, in preparation for a wreck survey of the Prestige.

The tanker broke up and sank on November 19th taking more than 60,000 tonnes of fuel oil with it to the bottom, while 10,000 tonnes escaped.