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Spain Asks for Aid to Contain Tanker Contamination - 2002-11-20

Spain is bracing for further waves of oil contamination from a tanker which sank 250 kilometers off its northwest coast Tuesday. The government has taken several steps to deal with the disaster.

In Spain's northwest region of Galicia, hundreds of navy and army personnel and citizen volunteers are working to limit the damage from the tanker's first oil slick. The ship Prestige put an estimated 5,000 tons of fuel oil into the ocean when its hull cracked in a storm last Wednesday.

The relief workers are also trying to rescue birds and sea mammals. More than 200 birds have been rescued but many more have been found dead. Galicia is home to three nature reserves.

After being towed into international waters, the ship went down Tuesday with an estimated 67,000 tons of oil aboard. Left in its wake was another large oil slick.

One of the slicks was apparently dispersed by a storm that went through the area Tuesday night. But there is concern that another storm that is brewing could push the other slick toward the Spanish coast.

Since the ship went down in water some 3,600 meters deep, some experts hope its cargo will solidify from the pressure and cold temperatures at that depth. But others fear the hull could crack under the pressure and release the rest of the oil.

More than 100 boats have gathered to protect the mouths of the inlets of the southern Galician coast which have not yet been affected. They are helping set in place 28 kilometers of inflatable barriers to block the oil.

Spanish authorities are appealing to other European nations for more of the inflatable barriers. Denmark, France and Holland have sent boats to help.

The Spanish Minister of Justice José María Michavila said Wednesday legal measures have been taken to claim economic compensation from the shipping company and its insurers for damage to the fishing and tourism industries.

The Spanish government has also contacted the United Nations, which has a fund set up to deal with oil disasters. The European Union has released $117 million to help the Spanish fishing industry.

Spain has also asked for explanations from Latvia, Britain, the United States and Greece, countries where the ship was inspected.