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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt reports from Brittany
"Drastic steps have to be taken"
 real 28k

Saturday, 8 January, 2000, 01:09 GMT
French demand more spill damages

French oil slick Volunteers race against time to clear oil from beaches

The French Government says it wants the Totalfina oil company to pay more compensation for the huge oil spill polluting the country's western coasts.

The company has already promised to contribute to the clean-up operation, but French Tourism Minister, Michele Demessine, says Totalfina should also take part in efforts to support the region's damaged tourism industry.

Earlier the French authorities banned the collection and sale of shellfish from the region, after fears that they may contain cancer-causing chemicals from the oil.

Tourist authorities in France are holding crisis talks to assess the likely impact of an oil slick which has killed thousands of sea birds and damaged the coast of Brittany.

The area's beaches, a popular area among British tourists, have been hit by thousands of tonnes of fuel from the wrecked tanker Erika, which sank in strong seas on 12 December.

A massive operation is under way to clear the coastline and rescue thousands of sea birds caught in the oil.

The French Government has pledged a multi-million dollar salvage package, backed by donations from oil giant TotalFina, which was responsible for chartering the vessel.

There are people doing the long, laborious, painstaking, backbreaking work of scraping the oil off the rocks
The BBC's Paul Welsh

But, fears are mounting that the area will be dealt a second blow as holidaymakers cancel their vacations in the wake of one of the country's worst environmental disasters.

Brittany, already facing a threat to its fishing industries from the oil spill, draws a major slice of its income from tourists.

A spokesman for the French tourist authorities told BBC News Online they were assessing the likely impact.

"Unfortunately we do not have the full picture, so we will be unable to make a comment until next week," she said.

'Compensation demands'

Lawyers representing some 50 towns along the affected coastline are calling for a pollution assessment to enable local residents and businesses to calculate compensation demands.

Up to 800,000 British tourists visit Brittany every year and UK tourism experts are confident the area will have cleaned up the beaches in time for the summer season.

A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents said: "From past experience of oil slicks I know that the French Government is investing a lot of money to clear the slick up.

"In terms of people going to the beaches, I would not expect their will be any major demand until April or May and I hope, and expect, that they will have cleared the problem up by then."

'Painstaking task'

However the BBC's Paul Welsh, reporting from Brittany's beaches where dozens of workers are engaged in the painstaking task of scraping deposits from rocks, said the operation was likely to extend until next December.

"There isn't an organised effort to clear it away the oil, most of it is being done by volunteers.

"There are people doing the long, laborious, painstaking, backbreaking work of scraping the oil off the rocks - that is going to be very time consuming," he said.

There are further fears that a further 20,000 tonnes of oil contained in the hold of the sunken vessel may still pose a threat, he added.

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See also:
07 Jan 00 |  UK
Oil slick threatens tourist coast
06 Jan 00 |  Europe
French oil spill threatens seafood
05 Jan 00 |  Europe
Oil spill damage worsens
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Oil firm offers clean-up cash
28 Dec 99 |  Europe
Jospin pledges action on oil tankers
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
Crew saved from stricken tanker

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