One year after the Prestige disaster and still no lessons learned

Press release - 10 November, 2003
A year has passed since the Prestige disaster but the impacts of the oil spill along the coast of north-west Spain will continue for at least a decade, says Greenpeace. The effects continue to cause severe ecological and economic damage in the region since the vessel sank on 13th of November 2002, polluting about 2000 kilometres of coast line making it one of Europe's worst wildlife disasters.

A local oil clean-up volunteer holds a badly oiled Comoran, victim of the oil spill from the recently sunken 'Prestige' oil tanker off the Galicia coast, Spain.

-"The Prestige spewed out its cargo of lethal fuel oil in the Atlantic one year ago, still there has been little change in the regulations which would help prevent further similar accidents. A change in the regime of responsibility, is a key measure to make moves to improve ship safety, but this has not even been contemplated by the EU or the IMO(1)," says Juan López de Uralde, Executive Director of Greenpeace Spain.

The current responsibility established under the Civil Liability Convention (2), has a financial limit only for the ship owner, according to the tonnage of the ship. And so, the crew managers, charterers, (which, in the case of tankers are usually large multinational oil companies) and owners of the cargo escape all responsibility.

-"Prevention is better than cure! 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," says Greenpeace campaigner Paul Horsman. "These measures should be taken by the IMO, however it has made little effort to curtail the activities of the worst aspects of the shipping industry but is, in fact, now trying to expel Greenpeace from the organisation."(3)

The recovery of the coastal and marine ecosystems affected by the Prestige disaster cannot be left in nature's hands. 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 2015.

Despite the alarming figures, showing the number of wildlife killed and the economic impact, 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.

In a report released today, The Prestige Disaster, one year on, Greenpeace reviews the year that has passed since the Prestige. Greenpeace believes that urgent action is necessary in order to prevent similar catastrophes from happening again and the report identifies 3 key steps that need to be taken:

* A full evaluation of the impacts of the Prestige oil spill.

* Establish systematic monitoring of the environmental repercussions in different areas and over time.

*A network of protected areas need to be established to provide so-called 'Noah's Arks' in order to speed up recovery.

Read the full report on

Notes: (1) IMO - the International Maritime Organisation is the UN body, based in London, UK charged with the global responsibility for ensuring safe ships and protection of the oceans from the impacts of the shipping industry. (2) Civil Liability Convention - is a global liability compensation scheme under the IMO whereby those impacted by oil spills can be compensated. The regime has a limit depending on the gross tonnage of the vessel. However, oil spills often cause damage amounting to much more. The Civil Liability Convention specifically limits the liability to the ship-owner. (3) The IMO decided, at its June council meeting, to remove Greenpeace as an observer organisation. Greenpeace is one of four key environmental NGOs with observer status in the IMO - the other 57 observer organisations largely represent sectors of the shipping industry. The final decision will be made at upcoming IMO Assembly meeting in London, November 24-December 5.