Spain Prosecutes Prestige Owner, Operator, Captain

MADRID, Spain, December 11, 2002 (ENS) - With the Spanish government under mounting criticism at home and abroad for its role in the "Prestige" oil spill disaster, Justice Minister José María Michavila yesterday announced legal proceedings against the owners, operators and captain of the sunken oil tanker. The tanker sank November 19 off the coast of northwest Spain, spilling tons of heavy fuel oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

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Oil slick from the tanker "Prestige" (Photo courtesy Portuguese Hydrographic Institute)
The Greek captain, Apostolas Mangouras, was charged with disobeying Spanish maritime authorities, while charges of environmental crime have been brought against the operator Universe Maritime Ltd. of Greece, and the owner Mare Shipping Inc., of the Bahamas. The single-hulled tanker was registered in Liberia, flying a Bahamas flag and carrying a cargo of 77,000 metric tons of oil.

A spokesperson for the Spanish Justice Ministry said Michavila was holding discussions with his French counterpart on a joint proposal to establish European Union wide criteria for environmental crime. The new criteria would make it easier to establish liability and prosecute offenders in the case of marine accidents of this kind, he said.

EU justice ministers have already agreed in principle to align definitions and sanctions on green crime. The framework defines actions and activities to be classified as green crimes and set out minimum and maximum punishments that EU Member States may mete out to offenders. The move is expected to trigger legal action against the council by the European Commission and European Parliament, which have been sidelined from the initiative.

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The damaged "Prestige" wallows off the Spanish coast. (Photo courtesy American Bureau of Shipping)
A committee of scientists appointed by the Spanish government to evaluate the situation of the Prestige yesterday issued its first report.

The scientific committee which includes French, Portugese, and European Union representatives is chaired by Emilio Lora Tamayo. They reported that 125 metric tons of heavy fuel oil per day are leaking from the sunken vessel.

An estimated 56,000 metric tons remain in the Prestige's tanks. In the area above the wreck off the westernmost point of Europe, a huge oil slick has formed, one of many that are expected to hit Spanish and Portuguese coasts in the coming days.

Fourteen cracks have opened in the hull of the oil tanker, five in stern and nine in the prow, the committee said. The scientists say that the black poison takes a day in rising to the surface from the depth of 3,600 meters (11,811 feet) where the Prestige lies on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

The cracks could continue to leak oil into 2006, said Lora Tamayo. "We can seal the cracks, not all of them, of course," he said. "Or we can try to pump out the remaining oil."

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