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news archives — oil 9

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New translation, the Magna Carta


oil 9

the politics of irresponsibility—
At last! News of the Spanish political prisoner, Captain Scapegoat Mangouras
the Prestige, August 2003

After much searching by, news has been found of Captain Scapegoat, the Master of the oil tanker Prestige in the form of an interview he gave to the London Lloyd’s List in June 2003.

This man, who has spent 32 years of his 44 year marine career as a tanker Master, is living in a first-floor apartment in Barcelona, reporting every morning without fail to a local police station while he awaits his ‘trial’—“he cannot even have a lie-in on a weekend”, let alone visit his family in Greece.

“He is baffled on two counts.
One, that he is being accused of contributing to this disaster, when in his mind he risked his life to do everything he could to prevent it.
Two, that having posted €3m bail, he is still prevented from flying home, even for just a few weeks, and is required to present himself daily to a police station.”

And with what has Captain Mangouras been charged?

“... disobeying orders from the Spanish maritime authorities and
of causing environmental pollution. A judge in the Galician port city of La Coruña said earlier this year that he could potentially face several years in jail.”

Note that this detainment is criticised cuttingly by a report, On improving safety at sea in response to the Prestige accident, presented to the European Parliament by Belgian MEP Dirk Sterckx.:

“... the captain of the Prestige is required by a court decision to keep himself at the disposal of the Spanish judicial authorities, with the result that he was, to the European Parliament's regret, unavailable to attend in person at the open hearing...”
[In other words, the Spanish authorities are keeping Captain Mangouras incommunicado.]

Throughout, this report is scathing in its censure of Spain’s actions, though this is often cloaked in over-polite comments and subtle sarcasm.

Returning to the charges made against Captain Mangouras, regarding the first charge (disobeying orders), which concerns the Spanish intention to start the ship‘s engines,

“ "I explained that it was dangerous to start the engine but [agreed that] if the authorities requested it, then we would start it," Mangouras says.” [interview]

And the engines were started, despite that they would “subject[...] the damaged vessel to added vibrations and, with an average speed of about 5 or 6 knots, increased the pounding from the rough seas.”

Regarding the second charge (causing environmental pollution), the pollution would not have happened to the degree it has, making a disaster worse even than those from either the Exxon Valdez and the Amoco Cadiz, if the Prestige had been allowed to enter sheltered coastal waters, rather than being hauled far out into deep and storm-swept seas.

Again, from the European Parliamentary report:

“... the salvage operators and captain repeatedly asked for the vessel to be brought into a safe haven or harbour, because they were convinced that they would then be in a position to contain the pollution and try to save the vessel, [...] whereas the Spanish authorities consistently refused to grant this request ...”

The European Parliamentary report further comments,

“L.   [...] the vessel had lost only between 1000 and 3000 tonnes of oil when it could have been brought into a safe haven, as stated by experts at Parliament's hearing,

“M.   whereas further spills could have been prevented in a safe haven and the means of extracting the oil spilt could have been concentrated, thereby preventing widespread pollution and the sinking of the vessel,

“N.   whereas the Spanish authorities gave instructions for the battered vessel to be towed out into open waters because they were ‘convinced’ [’s quotes] that they would then have more time to combat pollution; whereas that decision in fact resulted in the eventual pollution being spread over a much wider geographical area.”

Yet still the Spanish government makes a scapegoat of Captain Mangouras, in an attempt to divert attention from their clear responsibility and culpability.

From the European Parliamentary report:

“At about 2.00 p.m. the Smit salvage team arrived in La Coruña. But the team did not receive permission from the Spanish authorities to go aboard immediately. The Smit team advised the authorities to have the ship brought into a harbour or safe haven, but the Spanish authorities instructed Smit to tow the vessel a minimum of 120 miles off the Spanish coast. Smit would only be allowed aboard if it accepted those instructions. It accepted them under protest.”


Not only was Captain Mangouras denied safe haven, he was denied human dignity, denied human rights, denied acknowledgement of his expertise, and deprived of his right to command. Politicians would do well to remember that it is the Master and not they, who accepts the responsibilities of “agent of necessity” when trying to nurse a distressed vessel to safety. Distress at sea, is a traumatic experience at the best of times only made worse by the unhelpful medalling [sic.]of third party stakeholders. Left, to his own devices and the assistance of expert salvors the outcome may have been very different. However, Capt Mangouras is left to ponder what might have been and one has to worry for the mental health of this old man of the sea whose mind and conscience must have taken a battering only equalled by that of his ill fated ship.”

the web address for this article is














the politics of irresponsibility—
So now Spain claims that most of the Prestige’s oil has spilled
the Prestige, August 2003

item marker on abelard's news and comment zone The Spanish government’s original line was that 17,000 tonnes of the Prestige’s 77,000 tonne cargo of heavy crude oil had spilt.
Then, in February 2003, it was “estimated by the experts” that there was still 38,000 tonnes still in the wreck.
Now in the latest version of this story, from the Spanish state-owned oil company Repsol, a massive 63,000 tonnes of this filthy, poisonous heavy residual fuel oil [report in Spanish] has been tipped into the sensitive marine environment. Of course, this means that there is less oil (apparently just 14,000 tonnes) for Repsol to remove from the two halves of the sunken ship, when/if they eventually get round to it—by October 2004, so they say.

Note that the Repsol who will remove the oil from the sunken wreck is the same state-owned Repsol who has now discovered that there is much less oil to remove. No doubt they will still charge the same enormous amount (€280 million or $560.6 million) for removing what oil (allegedly) does now remain.

But when was the rest (25,000 tonnes) spilt? Was it during the towing, when the Prestige broke and sank, by oozing gently from the score of leaks, or has it perhaps come out in a sudden rush more recently? Will we ever know?

And further, let us not forget that the sunk halves are currently leaking a mere “trickle of 20 litres a day”. There is no certainty that the amount leaking is or will remain so‘low’. All comments from, or associated with, the Spanish government have to be taken with great caution.

item marker on abelard's news and comment zone There are suggestions in some quarters that “most of the blame [for the break-up and sinking of the Prestige, and the consequent oil spillage] lies with the ship's inspectors who allowed the Prestige to sail.”

However, by referring back to previous news items at this site, the reader may see that the “most rigorous inspection firm”, who was responsible for inspecting and classifying the Prestige as seaworthy (or not), had done their job with inspections and that the Prestige was not a “floating dustbin”, despite that criticism having been levied.

For this particular marine catastrophe, the real blame lies with irresponsibility of the Spanish government who

  • first removed the competent crew,
  • and replaced them with people who corrected the ship’s heavy list (the original problem exhibited by the Prestige) in such an unprofessional manner that maximal stresses on the hull were surpassed [report in Spanish].
  • Next, instead of towing the stressed, leaking ship to calm waters where the cargo could be removed, by Spanish government orders it was dragged up and down the Galician coast in a full storm (gale force 10),
  • until after six days, the vessel succumbed to the stresses and strains, broke in two and sank in 3500 metres of water, 130 kilometres from the Spanish coast.

Any other suggestion is mere diversion from apportioning responsibility where it patently belongs—the Spanish government and its officers.

the web address for this article is



At last, the world is waking up to Spain's role in the Prestige disaster
Soon after the report from the Spanish Merchant Marine Association, two other reports severely critical of the Spanish government’s actions over the Prestige disaster have been published.

item marker on abelard's news and comment zone An independent Gallician Foundation, created in 1966, has just published a 652-page report [in Spanish] on “The impact of the Prestige”. [The link provided is to the sales page for this document, priced 22.88 €.]

“[The report] produced by 40 academic researchers for the private Barrié de la Maza foundation, sharply criticizes the Spanish government's handling of the catastrophe, saying the Prestige spill was a "clear warning and an example of how not to do certain things." ”

The report includes the following points:

  • It is “very probable” that the final environmental damage and damage to the local fishing industry will exceed that of the Exxon Valdez.
  • Criticism of the government’s story that heavy fuel still in the wreck would solidify over time as a result of underwater pressure and low temperatures, there being no foundation for such a notion.“Of the major ocean regions, the North Atlantic is the warmest and saltiest (average temperature: 5.08°C).”
  • Criticism of the government’s decision to tow the damaged ship out to sea because of “the social and political cost of the massive contamination” it could have caused locally, instead taking the ship to port as recommended by several scientists. The result was that the pollution spread much farther and out of control.
  • On the environmental impact of the Prestige spill—
    wildlife: the “plausible” deaths of 250,000 birds, if confirmed, would represent the worst such loss ever recorded in Europe;
    fish populations: they could be damaged by “micro-agents” in the oil spilt from the Prestige, “one of the petroleum products most resistant to microbiological degradation”. For the last three months, the Spanish government has permitted fishing in much of Galicia and other regions in northern Spain that rely mostly on fishing and related industries.

item marker on abelard's news and comment zone The second report comes from Austrian Greenpeace [PDF] and again is highly critical of the Spanish government’s actions and their attempts to ‘whitewash’ the real and grim problems.

  • The Spanish authorities say that “nothing has happened and everything is back to normality”. However, the return to “normality” involves unsuitable clean-up of the oil with protocols not being respected. The cleaning up is being done fast so that when tourists come this summer they see no oil. But, although beaches may appear clean, the environmental impact of the Prestige is not reduced. The introduction of heavy machinery and the opening of roads in virgin areas also shows an lack of concern for any environmental impact.
  • The Spanish administration has tried to play down the size and impact of the accident throughout the whole crisis. As a result, the Hydrological Institute of Portugal and the French Institute, Le Cedre, were more reliable sources of information.
  • Surveillance flights sighted new oil, but this was denied afterwards by the government saying that the pilots had observed different layers of water.
  • A report by the Spanish Institute of Oceanographic Research, showing fuel in 77% of the catch coming from trawlers in the most affected area, was apparently removed after being on an official website for just 3 hours.
  • The re-opening of commercial fishing activity has been guided by the priority of returning to a “normal situation”. Shedding the financial burden of the compensations to the affected fishermen is an important impetus for the government.
  • The very high cost and technical difficulty of removing the remaining oil in the wreck 3.5 miles below the sea is a result of the disastrous decision to take the ship as far as possible from the coast. This decision increased most of the problems resulting from the accident, and also the amount of coast affected by the oil spill. The current delays in the oil’s removal will only increase the problems as the winter season of storms approaches.
  • The Prestige disaster shows that the Spanish Government has not taken maritime safety seriously. This is difficult to understand in a region that has suffered four major oil spills in 30 years.
  • The values chosen by Spain for safe levels of oil compounds in water and foods, and which compounds to be tested, appear to have been chosen for reasonable looking results and not for food security.

How many more reports criticising the Spanish government will be published by independent organisations before pan-governmental bodies such as the European Union, or even the United Nations, bring the irresponsible Spanish government to book?

the web address for this article is


Related material

the politics of irresponsibility (July 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (June 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (May 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (April 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)

the Prestige debacle (March 2003)

previous photos

more articles


Damning report on Spanish handling of the Prestige disaster—First known report in English

The Spanish Merchant Navy Association [item in Spanish] has published a statement after their conference on the wreck of the Prestige and its consequences.

item marker on abelard's news and comment zone

The Prestige accident became an ecological, economic and social catastrophe because of a set of organisational deficiencies and a series of hasty and unfortunate decisions.

  • Most of the Spanish fleet of ocean-going rescue tugs do not fulfil the necessary requirements of power, manoeuvrability and technical efficiency. Several crews were not on standby and time was wasted finding them, nor were boats provisioned ready to go to sea.
  • The government’s unwillingness and delay in admitting the situation, their failure to recognise the consequences of decisions, especially with regard to the original oil spill, and the delays in making decisions, all caused greater damage to the ecosystem. (Aerial units were sent up without following a pre-established operative plan, or having a communications frequencies system in place.)
  • The rejection of any solution based on using the shelter from the coast, or taking the oil tanker to a port, to avoid or diminish the effects of the cargo spill is evidence of minimum forethought and hasty conduct .
  • The decision to move the boat away from the coast was a serious error.
  • The denial and delay in recognising the seriousness of the damage to the hull and, later, the ship’s sinking, along with the serious error in presuming that the oil in the sunken hull would solidify beneath the sea, retarded analysis and decision making. This resulted in greater damage for the inlets and coasts affected by the ‘black tide’ of oil.
  • Those organising and supervising the salvage of the Prestige, who ordered the evacuation of the crew of the Prestige, did so in the full knowledge that there would insufficient crew available to take towing cables. The Prestige’s crew was replaced by crew from the tug Ría de Vigo, so that the tug’s owners might receive the salvage bounty. Captain Scapegoat Mangouras was ordered to leave the bridge of the Prestige and do deckhand work. Despite cooperating with the tasks, he was detained for “disobedience”.

It is significant that the Spanish Government has not made public the results of the Commission investigating the Prestige accident. This official version must be published so that necessary measures are adopted, in order to avoid repeating this type of accident.

The measures that the government of the Popular Party have adopted are temporary plasters to hide their inability, or unwillingness, to apply a less conciliatory policy with the large oil companies and flags of convenience.

The generous distribution of money coming from citizens’ taxes will never be sufficient to repair to the damage done by a catastrophe like that of the Prestige.

the web address for this article is


Spanish mess item marker on abelard's news and comment zone Blue flag status has been withdrawn from northern Spanish beaches, less than two months after it was awarded, after oil from the Prestige continues to wash up on the Spanish coast. The Spanish authorities have not been able to clean up the continuing mess fast enough and the Blue Pavilion organisation, who awards the Blue Flags, rumbled that Spanish beach cosmetics does not mean good quality beaches. The linked article has many details about the current situation on the north Spanish coastline: the state of tourism, fishing, beaches and its ecology.Two GoldenYak (tm) award

It will be unhappy news for northern Spain’s tourist industry. In Spain as a whole, “tourism provides 12 percent of Spain's GDP and beach tourism is responsible for the bulk of the country's tourism revenues.”

If the authorities at the Port of La Coruna [article in Spanish] had done their work and removed a huge rock partially obstructing their harbour entrance, the Prestige would easily have been able to take refuge from the severe storm and so not been left at high risk in dangerous seas. This rock is also implicated in two previous wrecks at the Port: the Urquiola in 1972 and the Aegean Sea in 1992.

Found by a diver in 1967, the rock reduces to 11.20 metres the low-tide depth of the North channel of La Coruna Port. (A 42,000 tonne tanker such as the Prestige extends down over 12 metres below its waterline.) Thirty five years later, the State has started works to dynamite and remove the obstruction.

item marker on abelard's news and comment zone And meanwhile, still not a whisper about Captain Scapegoat (68 year-old Captain Astopolos Mangouras), the man who tried to prevent this ecological and economic disaster, but has ended up held to ransom by the polluter – the Spanish authorities.

02.08.2003 those clean, safe beaches—in pictures and words

- to larger image - Prestige oil in French waters

The beaches are clean?
Little lumps of Prestige oil drifting along an Atlantic beach approach.

[click links for larger image and further text]


- to larger image - French warning aboiut pollution from the Prestige   - to larger image - stand-petrole for removing Prestige oil
do not swallow sand!
French public information notice, carefully worded so the general public will not cut short their holidays.
  A “stand petrole” with vegetable oil and tissues for cleaning oil off feet, backs, hands, etc.

Related material
the politics of irresponsibility (July 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (June 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (May 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (April 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)
the Prestige debacle (March 2003)
previous photos
more articles

the web address for this article is


our beaches are so clean and so safe

Spain: While the Port Captains [government functionaries] for various coastal towns in the northern Spanish provinces claim to have seen “no activity”, beaches along the Coast of Coruna have received “oil” or “pancakes of oil”. Of course, this is all promptly ‘cleaned up’, at least visibly, but that does not account for oil left buried in the sand or mixed into the water.

Meanwhile, “light brown, dispersed iridescent patches” can be seen floating near the site of the wreck. This shows that the broken Prestige continues to leak fuel oil, despite the patching up done by the French submarine, the Nautile. Remember that the Spanish government has no intention of doing anything with the many thousands of tonnes of fuel oil, still two and a half miles down in the broken halves of the Prestige, until next spring, they say.

France: Along the Aquitaine coast, lumps of oil are washed in with most tides, and are cleaned up by mechanical sieves and white-suited teams, giving ‘clean’ beaches by the afternoon. The oil lumps that float into the marine lakes are still oozing iridescent liquid, but most people appear to care not and continue to bathe in the sea and marine lakes.

20 .07.2003 legal battles as Spain attempts to dodge its responsibility
The ship classification company, American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), has responded vigorously to Spanish government’s absurd and vindictive legal suit (seeking more than $700 million in damages) to divert attention from its blatant irresponsibility regarding the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige, and the consequent ecological and economic disaster caused by spilling into the seas more than 30,000 tonnes of fuel oil, with a time-bomb of a further 35,000 tonnes still sitting two miles under the sea off Spain.

In response, ABS is suing the Spanish and Basque governments for “recovery for any claims made against ABS for damages arising from the Prestige casualty”, claiming that

“the Basque Government lacked the authority to file the action and their claims have been subsumed by the national government’s action.”


“By filing this lawsuit, the Spanish Government has acted in a manner that is contrary to its own Constitution and to the laws of the Kingdom of Spain. ABS also stresses that, by initiating this action in US Courts, Spain has waived its sovereign immunity with respect to any and all claims against it relating to the casualty.”


The ABS counterclaim alleges that the extensive pollution that has occurred can be directly attributed to the Spanish Government’s failure to properly activate and implement an effective oil spill contingency plan as required by Spanish law. It also alleges that the Government’s decision to deny the vessel access to a place of refuge was a clear violation of its legal duty and that the Government acted recklessly, negligently and grossly negligently in its response to the casualty.

“ABS claims that Spain should reasonably have foreseen that its actions, including assuming control of the vessel, refusing the request for a place of refuge or to move the vessel to a location where the cargo could have been off-loaded, and ordering the vessel away from the coast in deteriorating weather, could cause pollution in the sovereign territories of the Republic of France, the Kingdom of Spain itself, and other potentially affected areas which may include Portugal and the United Kingdom.”

So, now Spain has run whining to the European Council, part of the European Union, and demanded [petitioned] that the EC “no longer 'recognise' ABS as an approved classification society”.

As ABS points out, there is no credible basis for the Spanish petition under the relevant European Council Directive. Moreover,

“The recently released Draft Report on the casualty issued by the Transport Committee of the European Parliament specifically notes that the lack of an appropriate contingency plan, the failure to provide a place of refuge and the actions taken by the Spanish authorities resulted in the extensive pollution.

“The Parliamentary Report states that the assessment by the Spanish authorities of the vessel’s condition, the expertise of its crew and the quality of the inspections the vessel had already undergone do not tally with the testimony of, in particular, the Smit salvage company, the director of EMSA (the European Maritime Safety Agency), the insurers and the classification society.”


“a new study, conducted by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF), [...] is critical of the Spanish government's actions in denying the Prestige a place of refuge.”


“ABS had recently undergone assessment by the European Commission and that it was believed nothing more than routine findings were identified.

“ABS also voluntarily invited the EC to participate as an observer to the IACS ad-hoc audit of all its survey activities related to the Prestige, conducted in December 2002-January 2003. Unlike Spain, which was also invited to participate and elected not to, the EC participated fully in the audit and was strongly complimentary of ABS transparency.”

Now, will the EC and EU be willing to stand up to Spain’s hysterical and dishonest bullying? Or will it be a matter of “honour amongst thieves” in the European Union cabal?

A classification company, such as ABS, is concerned with “the development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine-related facilities”.

Related material
the politics of irresponsibility (June 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (May 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (April 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)
the Prestige debacle (March 2003)
previous photos
more articles

the web address for this article is

25 .07.2003

Related material

the politics of irresponsibility (June 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (May 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (April 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)

the Prestige debacle (March 2003)

previous photos

more articles


the politics of irresponsibility—the Prestige, June 2003

23.06.2003 don’t be alarmed—just enjoy the oil-splattered beaches
In the face of yet more oil washing up from the Prestige, Elvira Rodriguez – the Spanish ecology/environment minister (you know, the one who believes that the filthy fuel oil from the Prestige “just disappears”) has reassured holiday-makers that this oil is not a problem. Says Rodriguez, it is not freshly leaked from the wreck of the Prestige, ‘merely’ ‘old’ oil loosened from the seabed off Galicia where the ship was originally damaged. [The damaged Prestige sank after it had been dragged up and down the coast, on the orders of the Spanish government, during a major storm.] This oil has weathered somewhat, so the Spanish government deems that it is ‘safe’. And all the boats and shore clean-up teams are a sign that the situation is under control, not something to cause alarm.

Meanwhile, back in the real world ...
Since Friday the 20th June, fresh little lumps of fuel oil have drifted onto many beaches:

  • In Galicia, 29 beaches are freshly polluted,
  • in Asturia, it is eight (and that does not include a further 30 beaches still to be cleaned from previously),
  • Cantabria has 70 beaches affected,
  • while the Spanish Region of the Basque Country is somewhat spared with just two beaches touched, but the oil is very viscous and so difficult to clean up.

However, according to the authorities, the beaches are being rapidly cleared of the visible pollution. Of course, for the Spanish politicians it is a matter of, “what the eye doesn’t see, we hope that the voters will soon forget”.

17.06.2003 because the wind is from the north-west With the wind currently blowing from the north-west, it is Spain, not France who is receiving the latest batch of ‘disappearing’ oil. This is fresh fuel oil from the Prestige, that still escapes from the leaking holds at a rate of 3 to 4 tonnes a day (or 0.7 tonnes a day according to the Spanish authorities).

Since last Wednesday, eight Cantabrian fishing boats have collected 9 tonnes of ‘hydrocarbons’, while 40 tonnes of oil and sand has been collected from 28 Cantabrian beaches.

Meanwhile, in Asturias, as well as the 100 state workers, 332 others have been allocated to cleaning the new wave of Prestige oil, with a further 120 manning 60 water-jet sprays.

Back in Galicia, eight pairs of divers with three suction pumps are continuing to clean the sea bottom off Figueras, in the Atlantic Islands National Park. Other inlets are currently clean.

In France, small lumps of fresh fuel oil are washing up on beaches and into marine lakes. Fresh? Yes, mini-slicks of iridescent oil swill off the lumps, neither evaporated away nor yet lost into the seawater.

Autonomous regions of Spain - (c), 2003
The autonomous regions of Spain

15.06.2003 Who says the beaches are clean?
While most local politicians and businesses on the French Aquitaine coast and in northern Spanish resorts are doing their best to encourage holiday visitors to swim in their seas and sit on their beaches this summer, one French town, Tarnos in Les Landes, is not.

The Tarnosians admit that the beaches are not clean and that fresh oil from the Prestige (rather than aged oil which, apparently, is safer according to ‘experts’) is swilling around in the seas and washing up on the ‘clean’ beaches. [Both articles in French.]

Note that only one beach in Les Landes, and none in Pyrenees Atlantiques, have received a Blue Flag award this year to assert the high quality of the beaches concerned. However, despite bearing the brunt of the Prestige catastrophe, many beaches on the northern Spanish coast have been awarded Blue Flags. (The incongruity between numbers of French and Spanish beaches awarded is because French councils have refused to present their beaches for assessment. Their reason: the assessment system is based on the previous year’s inspection and so can be misleading.) See also this item on European ratings for bathing waters.

At Tarnos, surfers testify that there are little lumps of oil in the sea, as well as the fresh oil on the beaches. A local councilor, who is a chemist, explained at a public meeting that the oil coming from the Prestige is classified as a chemical product that is carcinogenic and/or toxic and/or dangerous to reproduction.

All beaches in the departments of Gironde and Charente-Maritime are now open, but six beaches in Les Landes (including the two at Tarnos) are still ‘closed’. Pyrenees Atlantiques beaches are all open except for those closed “for reasons nothing to do with the Prestige pollution”.

The official French line [article in French] is that the oil has lost part of its toxicity and so is only a “big problem” to those who are allergic to it. According to the French inspecting authorities, “As long as the local town hall officials do not see or smell anything during inspections, the beaches and sea are clean and so safe.” However, this only applies to supervised beaches, between the lifeguards’ flags.

The water and beaches may look clean—the choice is yours.

In Spain, a contract has been signed for 1070 people to continue “ordinary cleaning” of the Galician beaches from July to September. But what about the ‘extraordinary’ cleaning of oil beneath the sand, oil on the rocks, oil beneath the sea?
CEDRE (the French marine research institute) says that the Prestige is still leaking three to four tonnes of filthy oil, but this translates into Spanish officialese as 700 kilos of oil a day. And according to the Spanish government, there will then be nothing to clean up anyway – it all just vanishes into the sea.

Poisonous fuel oil to stay another year

How much is still in the holds of the Prestige? Brussels says that it is 37,500 tonnes, while for Repsol (the Spanish state oil company contracted to recover the oil) it is “over 35,000 tonnes”.

> In Brussels [article in Spanish], the Fishing Commission is demanding immediate emptying of the Prestige’s oil, rather starting next May as proposed by the Spanish, because the oil represents an ecological threat. Fishing will continue to be affected by the marine contamination as long as the fuel is on the sea bottom.
The Ecological Commission representative, Marie Ane Isler Beguin “laments the decision made by Spain to tow the Prestige in high seas when the option taking it into calm waters or to a port would have allowed a catastrophe to be prevented”.
However, the final report will not be presented to the European parliament for resolution until the parliament’s next full session in .... September.

The university at Huelva in Spain [article in Spanish] is conducting a simulation in order to determine the current viscosity of the oil still in the Prestige’s holds. This information will aid Repsol when it actually starts recovering the sunken oil.

Repsol [article in Spanish] intends to make a test run in the Mediterranean near Marseilles, in August, using their proposed method for removing the Prestige oil. If this test is satisfactory, then a first test will be made on the Prestige itself. The actual recovery of oil from the wreck is scheduled to start in May 2004, safely after the Spanish presidential elections.

the politics of irresponsibility —
Wreck to be emptied by the end of summer? Of course not, Aznar is premier until the autumn
the Prestige, June 2003

07.06.2003 A New Zealand newspaper announced yesterday that the job of emptying fuel oil from two parts of the sunken Prestige “has to be completed” by the start of the October storms.

Back in polluted Spain, the day before, a local newspaper knows differently [article in Spanish]. The State-owned oil company, Repsol, has no intention of actually attempting the tricky task of emptying the holds of the Prestige before Spring, 2004; long after José Maria Aznar, Spain’s current Prime Minister, has retired from office. That the hulk still leaks about three-quarters of a tonne of oil each day, that it lies in a seismically unstable zone, that it continues to decay and will eventually implode, is of no account to the Spanish central and local governments. And let us all try to forget the awkward assertion the authorities had made: emptying operations (not just experiments on what to do) would start in early summer 2003.

With summer bookings right down, ‘experts’ are wheeled out to try and convince the public that the seaside, and even the oil, is now safe. Meanwhile, unsuspecting holiday-makers are still being coaxed to come and paddle, and swim, in uncertain waters. Beaches have never looked cleaner after the enormous clean-up operations, and they are pleasant enough, but the oil is there and it is very likely that you will encounter the muck buried in the sand, or washed up on the beach. Whether you wish to brave the risks must be entirely your own decision.

Here is an animation [captions in Spanish] of what happened when the Prestige sank, and the various options for extracting the remaining oil.

Related material
the politics of irresponsibility (May 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (April 2003)
the politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)

the Prestige debacle (March 2003)
more articles

the web address for this article is


Related material

the politics of irresponsibility (May 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (April 2003)

the politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)

the Prestige debacle (March 2003)


more articles

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  entity, e-mail abelard short descriptions of documents on the mechanics of inflation - abelard welcome to outer mongolia - how to get around this ger multiple uses for this glittering entity e-mail abelard at t“Logic has made me hated among men”: Abelard of Le Pallet on theology-abelard Abelard of Le Pallet: Introduction - abelard feedback and crowding - abelard