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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 22:06 GMT
Alert as oil slicks threaten coastlines
Fishermen off the north-western Spanish coast collect oil from the sea
Fishing bans have been extended in Spanish waters
Portugal and France are on high alert after oil slicks from the sunken Prestige tanker began encroaching on their territory.

Portuguese Navy worker helps put in place an oil barrier
Several countries are implementing measures to prevent further disasters
French officials told Reuters news agency that oil-stained birds had begun washing up on the southwestern French coast.

Portuguese Defence Minister Paulo Portas said that small slicks had been spotted about 18 miles (30 km) away from his country's coastline, and more reconnaissance planes and patrol boats had been sent to the area.

Last month's sinking of the Prestige, which lost a large part of its 70,000 tonnes of oil cargo before breaking in two and sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic, has already caused considerable damage to the Spanish coast.

Frigate tracked

A Spanish frigate was tracking an ageing oil tanker through Atlantic waters on Wednesday, after it was expelled from French waters over safety fears.

Fishermen scooping up oil from their boat of the Spanish coast
Dozen of Spanish beaches have been contaminated by oil

The Enalios Titan, laden with 87,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, was escorted out to sea by the French navy late on Tuesday.

The consequences for north-western Spain worsened on Wednesday, as Spanish authorities extended restrictions on fishing and gathering shellfish.

The ban now reaches as far south as the Portuguese border.

Dozens of Spanish beaches along the Galician coastline have also been contaminated by the thick oil, and thousands of seabirds have been killed or contaminated.

Getting tough

The action by France and Spain to force the Enalios Titan out to sea follows their adoption of tough new rules regulating which vessels may sail through their waters.

Portugal and Italy are implementing similar measures.

The four countries acted speedily without waiting for a Europe-wide standardised approach.

But Brussels is also getting tougher.

A European blacklist of 66 vessels was published on Tuesday, "naming and shaming" vessels which have repeatedly breached maritime safety rules. Most are bulk carriers, but there are 16 tankers and one passenger vessel.

The European Commission is also demanding a ban on single-hulled tankers like the Prestige, which offer no protection from oil spills once a tank has been ruptured.

Spanish shadow

The Enalios Titan's progress towards its final destination - Singapore - will be closely monitored by Spain.

The Spanish frigate Baleares, which is shadowing the 24-year-old Maltese-registered vessel, is expected to force it further out to sea if it tries to cross into Spanish waters.

At the weekend, another tanker, the Moskovsky Festival, was ordered out of Spanish and Portuguese waters.

The expulsion policy has been criticised by some shipping bodies, which say it breaches existing international maritime law.

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:

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19 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
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