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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 18:26 GMT
EU call for single-hull tanker ban
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
European Union Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio has called on EU member states to take urgent steps to ban the use of single-hulled tankers in European waters.

She was speaking in a debate in the European Parliament, prompted by the sinking off the Spanish coast of an ageing tanker, the Prestige, with 77,000 tons of oil on board.

Satellite image of slick (Esa)
A satellite image shows the slick spreading from the wreck (l) to the coast on 17 November
At least 80 kilometres (50 miles) of the Spanish coastline have already been blackened by oil since the Prestige began losing its cargo during a storm last week.

High winds are currently blowing further slicks towards the coast, with a storm forecast in the next 24-48 hours.

"If heavy fuel is being transported, then double-hulled tankers have to be used, because the last accidents implicated single-hulled tankers that were old and out of date and were carrying heavy crude oil," Ms de Palacio said.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image

"We have to draw the conclusions from this and act... We have to learn what we can so that we can change what we do in the future... to avoid situations like this from happening again."

She called for a decision to be taken outlawing single-hulled tankers at a forthcoming meeting of meeting of EU transport ministers in Brussels.

The EU agreed in 2000 to ban single-hulled tankers by 2015, and to set age limits for tankers using the territorial waters of EU states.

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

On Thursday the Danish Government, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, backed an earlier call by Ms de Palacio for these measures to be implemented ahead of schedule.

The Minister for Economy, Industry and Trade, Bendt Bendtsen, expressed his "deep consideration" for coastal communities deprived of their livelihoods in fishing and tourism.

Correspondents say 3,000 fishermen have been directly affected by the pollution, while others are hurrying to bring in their harvest before more oil hits the coast.


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

Spanish officials say at least 40 beaches have so far been affected.

Another seven oil slicks are said to be out at sea, one of them eight kilometres (5 miles) long.

"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.

The Prestige finally sank after breaking in two on Tuesday.

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

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.

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 BBC's Jon Sopel reports from Corcubion
"Nature in previous oil spills has shown itself to be remarkably resilient"
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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