Leaked oil blackening Spain's coastline

Effect of thousands more tons of oil sunken with tanker uncertain

Feature story - 20 November, 2002
A ruptured tanker carrying 77,000 tons of fuel oil, almost twice the amount that spilled from the Exxon Valdez, has split in two and sunk off of Spain's coast.

Greenpeace activists sample spilled crude oil from the sunken Prestige tanker.

Oil has already washed up along the coast and birds and other wildlifehave been contaminated. Once released, oil is very difficult tocontain, and most will remain in the marine environment.

The vessel, the Prestige, was reported to have been about 250 kilometres (150 miles) from the Spanish coast when it broke up.

Most of the crew were evacuated after the tanker began taking on water during bad weather last week.

What happens now?

There are various and varying predictions as to what will happen to the oil left on board.

If the remaining tanks hit the bottom intact, it could be some timebefore they rupture and leak oil. Even then, at low temperatures theheavy fuel oil will be quite viscous and may be unlikely to reach thesurface as a slick. Nevertheless, out of sight must not mean out ofmind. There may well be impacts from releases of the oil beneath thesea over time.

The impacts on coastal ecology and communities are alreadysubstantial. The costs of the clean up will be enormous. In seekingliability and responsibility, we have to make sure it is not just theCaptain who is in the dock, but those responsible for the registration,running and chartering of this vessel and ultimately the oil industryfor once again being at the root of the problem.

The danger of oil is not limited to spills

This latest accident reminds us of the inherent dangers of fossilfuels. Oil may be an enviornmental catastrophe when it spills, but it'sno less a catastrophe when it arrives safely. In addition to thepollution caused by oil's extraction, transport and use, fossil fuelsare causing climate change, the worst environmental problem we facetoday.

We must phase out of the use of oil and move towards clean renewableenergy that can meet our needs without threatening our environment, nowand into the future.

Learn more about moving toward a clean energy future.

The shipping industry can take action to avoid spills

Greenpeace, the International Transport Workers Federation, and WWFhave written a joint appeal to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan toconvene a special task force. The task: close the loopholes in maritimelaw that allow sub-standard ships and shipping practices to continue onthe high seas.

Chief among the targets for international action must be the "flagsof convenience" -- countries which license ships to operate withoutregard for the safety of their crews or the protection of theenvironment.

There are several international bodies which set health and safetystandards for the shipping industry internationally. But as long asthose regulations are only enforced at the national level, "Flag ofConvenience" states will continue to offer a way around internationallaw.

You can read the text of the joint letter here,and add your voice to demands that the International MaritimeOrganisation improve the transparency and accountability of theshipping industry at our take action against oil page.