Accessibility links

Breaking News

Oil Tanker Sinks Near the Coast of Spain - 2002-11-20

Spain and Portugal are bracing for further possible environmental destruction a day after an oil tanker broke in two and sank off Spain's Atlantic coast. Brian Purchia has more.

Maritime officials believe the Prestige carried most of its 70-thousand tons of oil to the sea floor Tuesday. Environmentalists warn the tanker's oil could cause an environmental catastrophe. Francis Sullivan is the Director of conservation for the United Kingdom’s World Wildlife Fund.

"We're looking at an ecological disaster unprecedented in recent history. Many people remember the Exxon Valdez, which sank with about half as much oil as The Prestige has on board. If that oil escapes into the marine environment, and spreads along that coastline, it will be an unprecedented ecological disaster in European waters."

The tanker registered in the Bahamas has already leaked five thousand tons of oil since being damaged in rough seas one week ago. The 130-kilometer oil slick poses potential ecological and economic disasters for Spain and Portugal. Both countries depend heavily on their fishing and tourism industries. Fishing has been suspended in the area. Some fuel has already washed ashore, coating animals and beaches with thick oil. Many fish and birds have already died. Officials speculate the clean up could take years. Doctor Ian White is the Managing Director of the International Tank Owners Pollution Federation.

"There is a very serious threat, not only to the commercial fisheries of the area, which are very important. But, equally, birds, of course, are always at risk from oil spills. Their feathers get coated in the oil, they then can't feed, can't fly, they're a very pathetic sight, very hard to clean up the viscous oil, so it is a very worrying spill from, yes, the fisheries and the wildlife point of view."

The incident has sparked a dispute between Britain and Spain. Spain accuses London of failing to properly inspect the vessel when it was in Gibraltar. Britain denies the charge.