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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 16:17 GMT
Oil barge sinks off Spain
Police move in to arrest Greenpeace activists aboard the Vemanagna
Tanker traffic in the area is too high, say protesters
Oil is leaking from a Spanish barge which has sunk in stormy seas off the south of the country, a top government official has confirmed.

There are already several slicks of fuel in the sea

Marioano Rajoy
Spanish Deputy PM
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Marioano Rajoy said slicks from the Spabunker IV had been seen in the sea where the vessel went down in the Bay of Algeciras, near Gibraltar.

The sinking comes two months after the tanker Prestige, sank off Spain's north-west coast - creating an environmental disaster along the Galician coast.

Sunken oil
Clean-up operation in Galicia
Spabunker 4 barge:1,000 tons of fuel, slicks spotted around vessel
Prestige tanker:77,000 tons of toxic fuel, most of which has been lost
The Spabunker had 1,000 metric tons of oil on board, but it not clear whether the leaks are from its 900-ton cargo of fuel oil or from its own 100-ton diesel supplies.

The barge's captain is missing, but two crew-members were rescued before the barge sank in about 50 metres (164 feet) of water.

"There are already several slicks of fuel in the sea," Mr Rajoy said in Madrid.

It was not yet clear exactly how much oil had escaped, he added.

So far, the spill is not dangerous

Juan Carlos Juarez
Local mayor
Maritime services from Spain and Gibraltar are working at the scene to contain the slicks with booms.

Mr Rajoy told Spanish radio that a vessel could also be sent from Galicia to help any clear-up operation.

"So far, the spill is not dangerous," said Juan Carlos Juarez, mayor of the local town of La Linea.

He said a frogman was inspecting the sunken barge for signs of a hole.

Environmental threat

The Spabunker 4 - a 70-metre vessel owned by Spanish company Ciresa - sank as it was being towed in the early hours of Tuesday amid gusting winds and four-metre (13-foot) waves.

Map of area

Officials have yet to decide whether to try to refloat the barge or remove the fuel from the seabed.

Earlier on Tuesday, port authorities had played down the risk of an oil spill - creating echoes of the Prestige disaster, when the Spanish Government was strongly criticised for playing down the scale of the disaster in its early days.

The sinking of the Spabunker came only a day after Greenpeace environmental activists boarded a 24-year-old oil tanker, the Vemanagna, in Gibraltar's waters on the other side of Algeciras Bay.

They were protesting at the heavy use of tankers to refuel ships passing through the Straits - a situation they liken to an environmental time-bomb.

Police arrested two journalists and four activists but released them on bail on Tuesday.

Spain's coast and maritime fauna are threatened by the oil spill from the break-up of the Prestige

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See also:

19 Jan 03 | Europe
17 Jan 03 | Europe
03 Jan 03 | Europe
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