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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 05:36 GMT
Spanish oil spill threat recedes
The tanker has been leaking through a gash in its side
Spanish officials say they are "optimistic" of avoiding a major environmental disaster off the country's north-west coast from leakage from a stricken oil tanker.

Most of the 77,000-tonne cargo of the Greek-managed Prestige is still on board the ship, although spillages have caused slicks up to 40 centimetres thick along the shoreline.

If many fish die, will they ever come back?

Camelle fisherman
The Spanish authorities have set up floating barriers and winds have changed, pushing some of the oil back out to sea.

The Prestige's Greek captain was remanded in custody on Sunday evening with bail set at 3m euros ($3m).

Salvage worker sets up floating barrier
The Spanish authorities have set up floating barriers
Apostolos Mangouras is accused of failing to co-operate with salvage crews and harming the environment.

A diplomatic row erupted on Sunday between Spain and Britain over responsibility for the stricken tanker.

London has officially denied Spanish reports that the Prestige was heading for the British colony of Gibraltar when it ruptured on Wednesday night.

Battle with weather

The slick has been washing up on the picturesque shore of Galicia, covering birds with oil as salvage teams working from tugs battle to hold the ageing tanker together.

The Prestige
Registered in the Bahamas, managed by a Greek firm
Built in Japan in 1976
Spain says it was cited twice in 1999 for violating safety regulations and was last inspected the same year
Teams from Dutch salvage company SMIT equipped with floating barriers and pumping systems battled against atrocious weather to preserve the vessel, about 100 kilometres (65 miles) off the coast.

They have been using tugboats in a bid to tow the Prestige further out to sea.

Winds reaching 80 km/h and seven-metre swells have also prevented rescuers from patching a crack in the hull below the waterline or transferring the cargo to another ship.

The tanker has already leaked out thousands of tonnes of oil through a 35-metre gash in its side.

Vital sea life

Spain has imposed a fishing ban along a 100-kilometre stretch of sea between Cape Tourinan and Caion since the appearance of oil on the shore between the cape and Roncudo.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warns that if all 77,000 tonnes of the Prestige's is lost the spill will be twice the size of the catastrophic Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska.

Ecologists say corals, sponges and fish will be damaged by the pollution. Migratory birds which stop over in the area are also at risk.

Raul Garcia of the WWF's marine programme said that more than 60% of the local Spanish population depended on fishing for their livelihood.

"If this oil does leak out into the sea, it will devastate marine life and consequently have a tremendous impact on the people in the region," he said.

"We've had accidents before but nothing like this," said Federico Martinez Vidal, a recreational fisherman in the town of Camelle.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"It's still a very critical situation"
See also:

17 Nov 02 | Europe
15 Nov 02 | Europe
11 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
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