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oil 6

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oil 6

last updated 23.02.2003




Reporting in progress - expect updates

Light at the end of the tunnel
—the Prestige, February 2003
Latest reports Animated chronology of the oil’s spread [Spanish text]

23.02.2003 Because of a high pressure system, the expected high tides brought ashore less than feared.

The cleanup in France is reaching the stage of clearing any new lumps that the tides bring in.

wood, plastic, glass and ... tarry oil

Part of a day’s pollution clearance from an
Aquitaine beach, 90% of which is either thrown
from ships, or come from Spanish shores.

Hundreds of metres of fine nets spread on beaches, in the sea in bays and harbour entrances help reduce oil pollution onshore.

Of course, this is visual cleanliness only. It is too soon to say that the environment, including the food chain, is also clean.

Estimates of how much was lost from the Prestige, how much has been reclaimed, and how much is still swilling about, are provided below:

Original cargo of the Prestige   77,000 tonnes
Still in wreck “estimated by the experts” 38,000 tonnes
Collected at sea 40,000 tonnes emulsified so only
35% – 40% is oil
17,500 tonnes


Collected on land in Spain 55,000 tonnes estimated to be 90%
other jetsam and
  5,500 tonnes
Collected on land in France 10,000 tonnes   1,000 tonnes
      (24,000 tonnes)
Still in the sea 77,000 – (38,000 + 24,000) 15,000 tonnes
(Figures from Sud-Ouest)

Thus, two-fifths of the oil that has leaked so far from the Prestige still has to be recovered. It is estimated that about 1,000 tonnes of oil/water emulsion are being collected daily by various ships and fishing boats – 900 tonnes by the Spanish and 100 tonnes by the French.

But 2.2 miles, 3,500 metres, is a long way down. At that depth, the Prestige and its oil-containing holds are under a pressure of 350 atmospheres. (At sea level, pressure is one atmosphere, or 1.033 kg/cm2.) This Spanish animation shows what happens. It will only be a matter of time before new cracks appear and the oil again escapes in large quantities.

High tides and black beaches?

19.02.2003 France With high tides expected, defensive measures are being taken to protect beaches, particularly the rocky areas, on the southern Aquitaine coast.
And the daily cleanup continues. 10,000 tonnes of oil and oily rubbish have been cleared from Aquitaine beaches since the beginning of this year.

Spain Every day, more beaches are being declared clean in Galicia and along the North Spanish coast (further images here). 281 sandy areas in Galicia are now “completely clean”. However, looking “completely clean” is not the same as knowing that the food chain is out of danger.
Meanwhile, between Santander and San Sebastian, the drudge of scooping out brown, viscous pancakes of oil goes on, and on and on. Today’s score was about 650 tonnes of oil/water emulsion.

© 2003,

click to go to larger image
© 2003,

A barrage to prevent pollution from the Prestige entering one of Aquitaine’s many marine lakes.
However, the barrages have only limited efficiency: high waves and tides easily wash lumps of oil over and around the floating bar.
(Click for larger image.)


One of many French fishing boats, returning home with their latest catch of prime gunge from the befouled ocean.
The black, shiny patches on the jetty are Prestige oil, thrown up by the wind and high tides
(Click for larger image.)


Related material
The politics of irresponsibility (Feb 1003)

The politics of irresponsibility (Jan 1003)

The Prestige debacle, part 2 (Nov. & Dec.2002)

The politics of irresponsibility (Nov & Dec 2002)

The Prestige debacle, part 2 (Nov. & Dec.2002)

Another potential ecological oil mess (Nov. 2002)

World oil resources

World oil reserves and oil-based fuel development

Oil technical information and data

World primary energy consumption (at the end of 2001)

map of the region of Aquitaine in France

Xuntia de Galicia (Click on Xeral, under Situación Actual. For detailed maps of the Gallician coast, click on Rias.) This site has daily updates on where pollution from the Prestige has been observed.
CEDRE This page has links to daily maps showing aerial observation of pollution, and the progress on cleaning up the Aquitaine coast. Unfortunately, the page is often a day behind.
Prefecture Maritime d’Aquitaine
IFREMER (Reports on the Nautile.)

Institut Hidrografico (this site has not been updated since 06.01.03)


16.02.03 The cleanup makes progress
In the water
Spanish fishermen continue to fish for oil of their Northern coast — yesterday, 118 boats collected an estimated 495 tonnes of the oily, water mess. They were aided by helicopters guiding them to various patches of the dispersed oil and water emulsion.

A further 75 tonnes was recovered from off the French coast, principally off southern Landes.

IFREMER, the French research organisation in charge of the operations of the submarine Nautile, report that after 100 hours and 20 dives, they have definitively blocked 15 of the 20 leaks. Of the other 5, three have been “reduced substantially” and two partially. So now 2 tonnes of fuel oil are leaking each day. IFREMER is very clear that what they have done can only be a temporary measure.

On the land Over 5,700 people are reported to have worked yesterday, cleaning Spanish beaches, of whom four-fifths were on the Galicia coastline. The Galician authorities report that 70 beaches are “completely clean”, 326 are partially so, 224 ‘sandy areas’ have iridescent leftovers, 10 have lumps of oil, and there are 137 rocky areas that will need more specialist work.

Meanwhile, on the French coasts, some beaches in Gironde have been reopened to the public, while the cleaning of beaches further south is repeated and repeated.

06.02.03 I will make you fishers of oil, saith the Spanish government
For today’s lesson:
And the Spanish government, hunting in the forest of Galicia, recollected two brethren, Francia called France, and Portugal his brother, casting their nets into the sea: for they were fishers. And the Spanish government saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of oil.

Prestige oil arrives not just in the sea, on beaches and rocks, but also on seaside quays. 180 Spanish fishing boats and dozens of French ones go fishing off the French Aquitaine coast and the north Spanish coast. They fish for viscous, poisonous, emulsified fuel oil with .... shrimp nets, or similar tools, a heavy, tiring job. Others gather oil in fine nets, hundreds of metres long, which are reeled back on deck, spreading mess everywhere. The larger pumping ships suck the thick oil out with much water, to make the oil flow, then strain the out as much water as they can.

Today’s figures for Pyrennees Altantiques ‘fishing’ were:
61 T by ‘shrimp net’, 21 T by trawl nets, 80 T from pumping. Of course, these amounts are for oil well emulsified with water, and mixed with the large amount of sticks and other rubbish in these seas.

By the way, the reports that all the leaks from the wreck of the Prestige have been blocked was premature. The crew of the Nautile have found that three of the fissures just cannot be stopped up. So oil leaks as ever, be it slowly, while the wait continues for the problem to be solved. But will the Madrid government act?


05.02.03 the good news: All the current escapes from the Prestige have been blocked by the French submarine Nautile.

The bad news: Three days of clearing ever larger sheets of emulsified oil from French Atlantic beaches, and now a 200 km long slick has been observed, in places, merely 10 km from the French coast.

And.... : The Galician regional government has given local fishermen permission to start limited fishing on the shoreline and in ‘shallow waters’ for shellfish.The authorities say they ‘believe’ that, in shallow waters, they can inspect water quality more easily. Currently, tests show that, for practical purposes, there is no hydrocarbon pollution.

The fishermen are chary of the situation, only one ship has returned to work. As well as the worries about whether the seafood fished will be clean, there are also concerns that if everyone returns to work, there will be a glut on the market and prices would drop. There is also the problem that many of the fishing boats are covered in oil from helping the sea cleanup, and so unusable for fishing.

04.02.03 Beaches along Les Landes and Pyrenees Atlantique have been badly hit by emulsified oil, driven by west winds of up to 110 km/hour (about 70 mph).

A foul viscous mass, 15 metres wide and a kilometre long, is chopped into manageable pieces with spades, then is hefted into the scoop of a digger by four or five military personnel, using the spades.

Elsewhere, it is a matter of filling black bin bags with scrabbled together handfuls of tarballs. The muck sticking to rocks at will be left until later.

Why? Because it will not wash back into the sea. Oil not cleared up goes out with the tide, only to return and pollute somewhere else, perhaps less accessible, on the next tide.

Experimental nets laid out on the shores are being successful. They enable the collection of oil with only minimal amounts of sand.

The cleanup ships are returning to sea, anticipating the improved weather conditions forecast for the next few days.

02.02.03 The current bad weather has blown swathes of oil, with black pancakes a metre in diameter, onto southern Landaise shores, as well as beaches in French and Spanish Basque country.

Cleanup teams are hard pressed to remove one lot before the next arrives. Because adverse sea conditions have currently stopped the removal of muck out at sea, it is feared that the next big tides, due later this month, will bring large amounts of the tarry filth onshore.


Related material
The politics of irresponsibility (Feb 1003)
The politics of irresponsibility (Jan 1003)
The Prestige debacle, part 2 (Nov. & Dec.2002)
The politics of irresponsibility (Nov & Dec 2002)

The Prestige debacle, part 2 (Nov. & Dec.2002)
Another potential ecological oil mess (Nov. 2002)
World oil resources
World oil reserves and oil-based fuel development
World primary energy consumption (at the end of 2001)
Oil technical information and data

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