Spain Acts Against Sub-Standard Oil Tanker

MADRID, Spain, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - An oil tanker was ordered to leave Spain's 200 mile marine economic zone on Saturday, the first to be affected by last week's Franco-Spanish initiative to clamp down on vessels thought to represent a hazard to coastal environments.

The expelled vessel, the "Moskowsky," flying a Maltese flag and carrying a cargo of fuel oil, was heading for Gibraltar according to the office of Spain's deputy prime minister.

A Spanish frigate ordered it to change course after verifying that it was not in compliance with the minimum safety requirements agreed between France and Spain and subsequently backed by Portugal and Italy.

According to the Portuguese Defense Ministry, following advice received from the Spanish authorities, a Portuguese navy vessel then issued further instructions to the "Moskowsky" to remain outside Portugal's 200 mile zone.

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Some oil from the "Prestige" washes onto Spanish beachers, November 21. (Satellite photo courtesy NASA)
Swift implementation of the get tough policy on tankers has failed to calm the mood of public anger in Galicia following the arrival of a second slick on Galician shores from the sunken oil tanker "Prestige."

Some 200,000 protestors marched through the streets of state capital Santiago on Sunday calling for the resignation of Spanish President José Maria Aznar and Galician President Manual Fraga. The demonstrators demanded immediate action to prevent further oil spills on a coastline that has been hit by six oil tanker disasters in the past 30 years.

The Bahamian owned and flagged "Prestige" cracked up on November 13 in heavy weather just off Spain's Costa da Morte, or Coast of Death, releasing about 4,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. She was towed further offshore, and on November 19 sank with about 70,000 tons of oil still aboard, some of which has surfaced.

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Bird caught in the oil spill (Photo courtesy SEO/BirdLife)
Some patches of the giant oil slick of about 9,000 metric tons of oil are reaching the shore, but most of the oil is still at sea. The slick has split into four large patches and is said to be only a mile or so off the Spanish coast.

Westerly winds are carrying some of the oil onto beaches already fouled by the earlier spill before the "Prestige" went down. The oncoming oil is making tough work for anti-pollution vessels off the coast as they attempt to keep the oil from reaching shore.

Experts are predicting that the giant oil slick may soon reach the shore, and cleanup workers could be faced with a far worse situation that they have today. Depending on the weather and what the winds do, wildlife rescue workers fear a serious wildlife disaster.

King Juan Carlos today toured areas hit by oil slicks from the tanker and witnessed the impact of the spill on local fishing communities and wildlife. The King visited beaches at Laxe and Muxia accompanied by Fraga and Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

King Juan Carlos met with the Jay Holcomb, leader of the International Fund for Animal Welfare Emergency Relief Team, which is in Spain to assist local authorities with the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife oiled from the spill.

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King Juan Carlos of Spain
(Photo credit unknown)
The King visted A Coruna, a coastal town in the province of Galicia, where the beaches and wildlife have been most affected. IFAW’s ER Team is running the main oiled wildlife rehabilitation center in nearby Pontevedra where the birds collected on A Coruna’s beaches are taken for veterinary care, de-oiling, and rehabilitation.

“It is marvelous that King Juan Carlos has come here in support of the incredible efforts of many to respond to this crisis,” said Holcomb. “Meeting with him was a great honor, and concern from this high level in Spain can only help to ensure that everything possible is done to save the wildlife affected by this tragedy.

The Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) and BirdLife International estimate that already between 10,000 and 15,000 birds have died because of the black tide leaked by the "Prestige."

"The Spanish population of guillemot has been hardest hit by the Prestige oil spill," said Alejandro Sanchez, director of the Spanish Ornithological Society. "We predict the Guillemot is now very likely to become extinct as a breeding bird in Spain. If this happens the Prestige oil spill will be remembered as a tragedy for Spain's wildlife as well as its people."

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Guillemots are at risk from the Prestige oil spill. (Photo courtesy RSPB and SEO/BirdLife)
As part of the contingency plan that will take effect if a larger slick engulfs Spanish beaches, the Spanish Ornithological Society will increase the scale of the search and collection operation for birds on the coast when the slick strikes. Currently, SEO is coordinating about 900 volunteers over about 100 kilometers (62 miles) where 141 beaches have been affected.

At the main rehab center there are currently 218 birds of nine different species receiving care. IFAW has recently increased its response to the rescue and rehabilitation effort, and now has a team of 15 experts working in partnership with local authorities.

“Rehabilitation of oiled sea birds does work, but the window of opportunity to help these birds is small and we need to do everything we can to get them to the Pontevedra rehab facility as fast as possible. Because the longer they stand with oil on their feathers the less chance we have to successfully rehabilitate them for release," Holcomb said.

A juvenile dolphin has washed up near Cape Tourinan after dying in the fuel oil. It is the first known marine mammal casualty from the oil spill.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London}