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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 13:41 GMT
Oil tanker spill threatens birds
Oil Tanker Prestige, AFP
Waves break over stricken oil tanker Prestige
Conservation groups are warning that the stricken oil tanker currently being escorted away from Spanish waters is putting some of the country's most vulnerable birdlife at risk.

The oil tanker Prestige has left behind a 32-kilometre-long slick, which is believed to be just offshore.

The tanker was on its way from Latvia to Gibraltar last night when it encountered violent storms about 48 km off the province of Galicia in north western Spain.

Of particular concern to conservationists are the many species of migratory birds that use the area as a resting stop before continuing south.

Coast of Death

The damaged tanker is situated along a portion of the Galician coast known as Costa da Morte, the Coast of Death.

The tanker ran into trouble off the Cape Fisterra, which has been described as the cemetery of countless men and ships.

This coastline is deeply cut with peninsulas and inlets and contains many ecosystem types protected by EU law.

Many species of fish and shellfish, as well as bottle nosed dolphins and harbour porpoises live in the surrounding seas.

Threatened birds

The area is also a vital stop over point for migratory birds flying south, which use these areas to rest and build up strength before carrying on their journeys.

Baleric shearwater
Migratory birds are at risk
The Spanish Ornithological Society says birds like the Balearic shearwater which qualifies as a critically endangered species in Spain, could be at risk.

The organisation is closely monitoring the situation, saying it is in close contact with the regional environmental authorities as well as the coastguard.

It is also organising a network of volunteers to monitor any impacts of the oil spill on seabirds.

International help

An expert from the international organisation Oil Spill Response Ltd, who worked on the Exxon Valdez spill, has joined the Spanish Coast Guard Agency.

We are still in an emergency phase

Cam Pulham
Inshore booms and pumping equipment have been deployed to try to contain the oil.

Cam Pulham from Oil Spill Response Ltd told BBC News Online that a lot of the information being reported could not yet be confirmed.

He said: "Information is still somewhat sketchy. We are still in an emergency phase and many reports about the situation are unconfirmed."

He added that the spill volumes also needed to be verified.

Up to 3,000 cubic metres of oil may have been spilt but until further investigations are complete the exact amount will not be known.

The Prestige is reported to be a single hulled tanker and was last inspected in 1999.

Concerns have been raised that it may not meet current EU ship safety rules.

Twenty-four crewmembers have been evacuated but three remain on board.

Salvage experts are expected to board the Prestige soon to determine how much oil has been spilt.

The cause of the incident is under investigation, but members of the crew have told reporters they felt a bump before the ship started listing to the side.

See also:

08 Oct 02 | Middle East
15 Sep 02 | Africa
11 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
15 Nov 02 | Europe
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