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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 16:46 GMT
Fresh troops sail into oil battle
Spanish troops arrive at Monteagudo island for clean up operation
Soldiers arrived on the Galician coast by ship
Hundreds of extra Spanish soldiers have joined the operation to clean up oil from the sunken Prestige tanker, amid growing anger over the speed of the government's response to the emergency.

The 700 soldiers arrived by ship on the Galician coast, which has been devastated by the estimated 17,000 tons of fuel oil which escaped from the Prestige.

France and Portugal are also braced for the first oil to hit their shores in the coming days.

And fresh fears have emerged that more of the 60,000 tons of oil inside the wrecked tanker may still escape, confounding hopes that the cargo would congeal in the chilly depths.

Young volunteer takes a break from cleaning
Volunteers spent the holiday weekend cleaning up
Spain says that two holes in the stern of the wrecked ship are posing a risk of further leaks.

The holes were found by the French mini-sub Nautile, which located the stern on Saturday nearly 4km (two miles) from where the severed bow section is lying.

"It is not known exactly what amount of oil could come out of there," said Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

"We can say that the stern is in a much better state that the prow but we don't know if the (oil) will solidify or not."

PM takes charge

Mr Rajoy flew over the site on Sunday, and told journalists he had seen three large slicks and 60-70 smaller ones.

Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar took personal charge of the crisis at the weekend, seen as an attempt to demonstrate a firm hand amid the deepening anger.

Volunteer with oil-filled bucket
Oil is being taken away by the bucketload
Spanish fishermen along the affected coasts have bitterly criticised the government for its slow response to the crisis.

Thousands of fishermen have been forced to remain ashore as fisheries and seafood areas have been closed.

Their lucrative Christmas markets in Spanish delicacies like goose barnacles are being lost.

The northern regions of Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque country are all feeling the disaster's effects.

The government's response has angered fishermen from the start, first for insisting that only small amounts of oil had escaped, and then for insisting that the sunken cargo would solidify.

Campaign group Greenpeace has also accused the government of acting too slowly, and of playing down the crisis in its early days.

The Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, led scores of ships into the port of La Coruna on Sunday to demonstrate its continuing anger at the speed of the operation.

French plans

In France, an emergency cabinet meeting was held on Sunday evening, where Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was told that the first oil would probably hit French shores within three days.

Portugal is also waiting anxiously to see whether the tides and winds bring any of the oil onto its shores. It has hired a Norwegian floating rig to help pump oil from the water.

Floating barrages have been put on standby to protect the coastline, and private French trawlers have been requisitioned to join the oil-skimming operation at sea.

Along the Spanish coast, up to 10,000 volunteers, joined by the 700 extra soldiers, are battling to clear oil from hundreds of wrecked beaches. Around 1,000 troops had already been deployed to help the clean-up.

Thousands of seabirds have been killed or covered in oil, and other sea creatures - including dolphins - have also perished.

Cove mission

The soldiers arrived in the Galician port of Vigo on Sunday, during a three-day Spanish holiday weekend.

They will be deployed in rocky coves which are harder to reach than the beaches where most volunteers have focused their efforts so far.

Up to 5,000 other soldiers and air force members started travelling north on Sunday to join the effort, the army said.

The first government aid to fishermen and others hit by the crisis were expected to be paid in mid-December.

It is not known how the Prestige first got into difficulty in an Atlantic storm in November, but tankers of the same single-hulled construction are now to be banned from European waters to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

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:

06 Dec 02 | Europe
25 Nov 02 | Europe
03 Dec 02 | Europe
19 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
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