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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 16:30 GMT
Storm drives oil towards shore
An oil-soaked bird sits on the beach of Mar de Fora near Finisterre, northern Spain
A wave of slicks is getting closer to the shore of Galicia
A new oil slick has been washed ashore on the Spanish coast as bad weather hampers efforts to keep oil from the sunken tanker Prestige from causing further environmental damage.

Satellite image of slick (Esa)
A satellite image shows the slick spreading from the wreck (l) to the coast on 17 November
Seven more slicks remain at sea, with high winds driving them towards the shore.

The weather has disrupted plans by Spanish fishermen to form a makeshift boom with their boats to halt the progress of the oil.

At least 80 kilometres (50 miles) of coastline have already been blackened by oil since the Prestige began losing its cargo during a storm last week prior to breaking up and sinking.

"More is coming in and the wind isn't helping at all," said a Spanish police officer in Finisterre - the westernmost point of mainland Spain, where fishing has been banned for at least a month.

Major oil spills
Jan 1993: 85,000 tons off the Shetland Islands
Dec 1992: 80,000 tons near La Coruna port in Spain
March 1989: 38,800 tons off Alaskan coast
1979: 160,000 tons off Tobago
March 1967: 119,000 tons off the UK

As he spoke, blackened waves pounded a nearby beach, after the latest oil slick washed ashore on Thursday.

Elsewhere, coastal communities hurried to bring in their harvests of shell fish before they were hit.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais has said the country was poorly prepared for the disaster.

It said there were too few ships capable of sucking up oil in coastal areas, and an insufficient quantity of floating plastic barriers.

Large vessels, equipped to scoop up oil out at sea, have been forced back into port because of the weather.

A BBC correspondent says the storm conditions could be beneficial if they disperse the slicks and clear oil from some of the polluted headlands.

Open in new window : Sinking tanker
Pictures of the Prestige oil slick

But environmentalists are warning that underwater pressure may rupture the fuel containers which went down with the tanker, releasing thousands more tons of oil into the ocean.

Thick oil

About 90 beaches have been affected so far and Spain says it will cost more than $40m to clean them.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image

Ecologists, soldiers and volunteers are working to rescue tar-coated sea birds and clear the sticky sludge which is blackening the coastline.

Clear-up teams have dealt with oil spills along this coast of Spain before, but not of the particular type of thick oil the Prestige was carrying, says the BBC's Nick Adcock, reporting from the port of Finisterre.

The accident has prompted urgent international calls for tighter controls on the movement of single-hulled oil tankers like the Prestige in coastal waters.

Poor forecast

Winds coming from the Atlantic ocean have been causing problems for other vessels in the area.


Built: 1976
Weight: 42,000 tons
Cargo: 77,000 tons of oil
Owners: Mare Shipping
Registered: Bahamas

A French cargo ship bound for Britain is being towed to the port of La Coruna, after breaking down some 40 kilometres (25 miles) offshore on Wednesday.

There may also be worse to come, with winds of110 kilometers (65 miles) per hour was forecast over the next 24-48 hours.

Reconnaissance planes are flying over the area where the tanker sank - 210km off the coast - to monitor a slick that has formed in the area.

They are expected to determine the size of the spill which emerged on Tuesday after the tanker broke in two.

Salvage workers believe it is the Prestige's own fuel that has leaked into the ocean, rather than its cargo.

It remains unclear if the oil inside the Prestige will disperse if the ship breaks up further. So far, Spanish officials say, there have been no new leaks.

Environmentalists warn that if the entire cargo of some 77,000 metric tons spills, the resulting damage could be double that caused by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 - one of the worst ever.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"Stormy weather could be Spain's salvage"
David Mearns, deep sea salvage expert
"The mistake was towing the ship out to sea"
Spain's coast and maritime fauna are threatened by the oil spill from the break-up of the Prestige

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20 Nov 02 | Media reports
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