A oil cleanup volunteer holds a Comorant covered in oil from the sunken Prestige oil tanker on the coast of Galicia, Spain.
In a report released today, The Prestige
Disaster, One Year On, we review the year that has passed since
2,000 kilometres of coastline were decimated by lethal fuel oil in
one of the worst wildlife disasters in European history. The report
outlines how the Spanish Government has failed to adequately
evaluate the catastrophe or take protective measures to ensure
minmized damage to the environment and human health. Chillingly,
the report concludes that
"The characteristics of the Prestige oil slick make it
reasonable to suppose that the main effects will appear in the
medium and long term, since the continued presence of pollutant
substances in the ecosystem means that they will enter most
organisms via the food chain."
Those organisms include human beings. Yet despite massive
evidence of environmental harm, the loss of whole industries and
millions in income, what has been done to ensure it never, ever,
According to Juan López de Uralde, Executive Director of
Greenpeace Spain, "There has been little change in the regulations
which would help prevent further similar accidents." The only thing
that will stop future accidents is a sea-change in the way
liability and responsibility for these disaster is assigned, and
according to Uralde, "This has not even been contemplated by the EU
or the International Maritime Organisation."
Currently, financial responsibility is limited to the ship
owner, and liability scales with the tonnage of the ship. The large
multinational oil companies which usually charter the vessels and
own the cargo escape all responsibility. Greenpeace in Spain has
collected 150,000 signatures calling for an unlimited liability
regime: one reflecting the principle that we make the polluter
is better than cure," says Greenpeace campaigner Paul Horsman. Paul
has stood on oily shores around the world -- from Kuwait to
Siberia, bearing witness to the incredible destructive power of oil
"In order to prevent new oil spills, regulations need to force
both the shipping industry and the charterers to operate under the
highest standards of ships and crews. Further measures are needed
to protect sensitive sea areas and increased control of maritime
traffic," he said.
"All of these measures could and should be taken by the IMO.
However, the organisation has made little or no effort to curtail
the activities of the worst aspects of the shipping industry."
International Maritime Organisation: fox guarding the chickens
Instead, the IMO has sought to curtail criticism by removing
Greenpeace's consultative status from the organisation, citing
issues with our methods of campaigning. The IMO's membership
includes Flag of Convenience states which license unsafe,
rust-bucket tankers to sail our shores with deadly cargoes.
The shipping industry has access to the IMO to lobby for
lessened restrictions. Greenpeace is only one of four environmental
organisations which has observer status at the IMO. The remaining
57 largely represent various sectors of the shipping industry.
Moves by the IMO to expel Greenpeace are a clear demonstration that
it prefers to listen to the voices of vested industrial interests
rather than those which would protect human health and the
For more than a decade, Greenpeace has fought for human safety
and environmental protection. We've been active in calling for a
ban on single-hull tankers and efforts to restrict hazardous waste
shipments in the shipbreaking trade.
Far away from the press headlines, an almost silent battle is
being fought between those who profit from the business of
transporting hazardous substances by sea and those of us who defend
drastic measures to prevent new oil slicks.
The recovery of the coastal and marine ecosystems affected by
the Prestige disaster cannot be ignored. Studies carried out by
Galician universities estimate that it will take 10 years for the
areas affected by the Prestige oil spill to return to normal,
whilst a complete biological recovery could take until year
No recovery plan (including proposals for evaluation, recovery
and protection) has been announced. Neither the Spanish government
nor the regional authorities have taken particular interest in
protecting the marine environment.
And although the European Union has forbidden the entry of
single-hulled ships carrying heavy fuel oil into European ports,
this type of fuel represents only around 5 percent of all the oil
products that enter Europe. And the EU law does not forbid ships
like the Prestige from sailing in European waters, only from
docking in ports. Even so, the International Maritime Organisation
(IMO) has already hit the roof over this timid initiative, and
shipping interests in the body are eager to ensure its
IMO: Act Now!
We believe urgent action is necessary in order to prevent
similar catastrophes from happening again. It is clear that a range
of measures needs to be implemented urgently which would increase
the quality of shipping. These include:
- A liability regime which can both act as an incentive to use
high quality ships and crews and which is more consistent with the
polluter pays principle.
- This means that the charterers (i.e. the oil companies in the
case of tankers)should not be excluded from liability as is
currently the situation.
- The rapid phase out of single-hulled tankers worldwide.
- The establishment of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs)
for the most vulnerable coastlines.
- A more robust and transparent inspection and maintenance regime
including the publication of classification society survey
- Closure of loopholes such as the use of Flags of Convenience
whereby shipowners can avoid their responsibilities by flagging a
vessel with a county in which the standards are lowest.
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