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Saturday, 7 December, 2002, 18:45 GMT
Spanish PM to handle oil spill crisis
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy during the crisis committee meeting
Aznar (left) will go to Galicia to assess the crisis
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has taken personal charge of dealing with the oil spill disaster off the country's north-west coast resulting from the sinking of the tanker Prestige.

Underwater picture of oil leaking from Prestige
Oil is leaking from the tanker
Mr Aznar - whose government has drawn heavy criticism over its handling of the catastrophe - for the first time chaired a crisis committee meeting normally run by his deputy, Mariano Rajoy.

Mr Aznar also announced he would go to the Galicia region to see for himself the damage caused by the oil.

The tanker disaster has caused serious damage to the region's vital fishing industry, and dozens of beaches have already been contaminated by thick sludge.

With more oil reaching the Spanish coast, thousands of volunteers from all over the country have gone to help in the clean-up operation.

A Norwegian anti-pollution vessel has travelled to the site where the tanker sank, to start sucking up oil from two large slicks.

More aid promised

Mr Aznar made no comment after the crisis meeting, but Mr Rajoy said the government would increase its presence in Galicia to deal more effectively with the crisis.

Protesters demonstrate against the government
Many protesters in Galicia demand Aznar's resignation

Mr Rajoy said financial aid would be expanded to the region to include sectors linked to fishing, such as fish wholesalers, fish market employees and net-makers.

He also said the French submarine Nautile - which had detected streams of solidified oil emerging from the tanker's bow - would make another dive.

His statement comes amid sharp criticism from opposition politicians and environmental groups, who accuse the government in Madrid of not reacting quickly enough to the disaster.

Huge spillage

The single hull of the ageing tanker cracked during fierce storms last month, spilling between 10,000 and 20,000 metric tons of its 77,000-ton oil cargo off the Galician coast.

It then broke apart while being towed further out to sea on 19 November.

The two parts now languish on the sea bed some 250 kilometres (155 miles) west of Spain.

Experts hope the fuel oil will solidify due to the low temperatures.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBc's Jim Fish
"Officials warn that more oil is on the way"
Spain's coast and maritime fauna are threatened by the oil spill from the break-up of the Prestige

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03 Dec 02 | Europe
21 Nov 02 | Europe
19 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
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