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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 08:41 GMT
How can oil slicks be prevented?
Portugal is likely to bear the brunt of catastrophic pollution as strong winds threaten to push a second oil slick formed around the wreck of the sunken fuel tanker towards its coasts.

The leaking oil tanker Prestige completely split apart after enduring a storm a week ago and its cargo sank on Tuesday.

It's unclear if the oil inside the Prestige will escape if the ship breaks up further; experts say the low sea temperature may delay the oil seepage and might even solidify it.

Five thousand tons of oil has already poured into the ocean and is washing up in thick sludges on the Spanish Galicia coast.

Wildlife has been badly affected and charges of causing environmental damage and obstructing the rescue effort have been brought against the captain who is said to have refused to co-operate in having the leaking tanker towed out to sea and away from the coast.

Fishing has been suspended and the livelihood of entire communities may be ruined.

Should oil tankers be banned from coming close to the coastline? Should tankers be captained differently?

This Talking Point was suggested by Mrs Jude Garner, US: "Why hasn't the world put restrictions on the ships that move oil?"
If you have a suggestion for Talking Point

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

It might be worth exploring the possibility of tankers carrying an oil coagulant, which could be used to solidify bulk oil cargo in the event of catastrophic structural failure. Interestingly, because oil has a lower specific gravity than sea-water, this tactic would also assist in keeping a damaged vessel afloat.
Chris B, England

We should have better equipment to control oil spills when they do occur.

Stuart T, Netherlands
Why are we not talking about practical solutions? We should have better equipment to control oil spills when they do occur. Because they will happen for many years regardless of new safety measures or other future developments. Why were Oil Booms (floating barriers) not used in this spill? Why don't we create fast reaction teams with such containment and cleanup equipment? They were used in other parts of the world before, why not this time?
Stuart T, Netherlands

Oil companies are constantly reporting profits that border on the obscene when you consider the environmental devastation that is forced on us by their products. For such cash rich organisations money should be no option in ensuring that these incidents never occur. Under the stones of Alaska, the Exxon Valdez's spilt cargo persists to this day and will for hundreds of years. The damage to ecosystems endures long after the media's eye has turned its attention elsewhere. The damage is irreversible and it's up to the oil conglomerates to ensure this never happens again.
Casey Fleming, England

A lot of the news coverage about the Spanish oil spill crisis seemed to focus, almost entirely on the Spanish government's refusal to allow the ship to dock on its coast and to infer that one could therefore blame the disaster on Spain. That was totally misleading and added insult to injury.

Not only does Spain have to suffer an ecological and economic disaster, but is blamed for it. When the reality is, is that Spain had nothing to do with the ship or its contents or why it was where it was. They should be getting an apology and compensation from those responsible, not condemnation from its patronising neighbours. Was the story presented in this way because perhaps Spain is an easier target than the oil companies?
Anonymous, UK

Oil companies should be made to pay for the clean-up operations required as a result of any spillages from their vessels. That would concentrate corporate minds on ensuring their vessels are constructed so as to minimise the risk of spillage (e.g. double skinned, compartmented hulls). Of course, they may decide to get insurance against this (and insurers would no doubt demand the same safeguards against it happening). The present situation where the victim (i.e. the nearest country to an incident) has to pay the price is unfair and wrong.
H R Lee, England

One answer would be more pipelines across Europe

Nick, UK
One answer would be more pipelines across Europe as this decreases vehicle transportation on land thereby benefiting the environment and also lessens the risk of spills. Though it must be put in a slight perspective that oil in the sea is not completely unnatural as it leaks from underground sources to the seas surface.
Nick, UK

Unless the world puts strict restrictions on the ships that move oil, problems like this will never stop. We must insist that only ships that are sturdy and able should be used to move oil. This has to be a fast and true law and adhered to regardless of who owns the ships. No politics are or should ever be involved in the choice of ships, only how sturdy they are. This will stop these terrible oil slicks and the ruining of our seas as well as killing our birds and animals.
Mrs. Jude Garner, USA

When a tanker is in danger of breaking up it should be taken inshore to a sheltered location, beached and the oil taken off manually, sacrificing a small part of the coastline. Taking the Prestige offshore is exactly what NOT to do, where it will inevitably break up and lose all its oil. Now the oil is going reach a much wider area of coastline, ruining many more beaches, fishing communities and obliterating most sea life.
Webbie, UK

To combat the flag of convenience problem, why not press for the UN to draw up a single code of conduct and take direct control of world shipping? All sailors and vessels would have a single standard, no matter where the ship is registered.
Rhiannon, UK

All oil companies must be forced to pay for double hull tankers immediately

Dave Tooker, USA
This is proof that the single hull time extensions are a bad idea. All single hull vessels should be banned immediately and oil companies forced to pay for double haul tankers. Just as I am required to pay to meet emission standards on my car all oil companies must be forced to pay for double hull tankers immediately.
Dave Tooker, USA

British Gibraltar was the destination of oil tanker Prestige. Dozens of ships use Gibraltar waters to avoid environmental safety regulations. Company profits at all costs are not acceptable. Britain should put an end to all this.
Pacopadre, Spain

It is known that the vessel was last near Gibraltar taking fuel in June of this year. Where has this vessel been since then? What ports has she visited? Have any checks been carried out at any of these ports? Do they have evidence that the ship was sailing to Gibraltar? How on earth can Gibraltar be to blame for what happened? Has anyone questioned these Spanish accusations? In fact the Gibraltar and British authorities have evidence that the ship was not even calling at Gibraltar but sailing directly to Singapore. Let's stop this nonsense that is evidently trying to tarnish Gibraltar's reputation at all cost. This makes a mockery of the Spanish authorities as well as the European Commission.
Luciano, Gibraltar

Sea traffic must be seriously regulated

Ernesto Jardim, Portugal
Sea traffic must be seriously regulated. It's not possible any more to leave old vessels with dangerous cargo crossing the seas, most of the time with flags of convenience. It must be stopped! Do we need a terrorist attack on one of these ships to open our eyes to the chaos that are the current sea regulations? Maybe that's the only way to get people's attention, in the security-mad 21st century.
Ernesto Jardim, Portugal

The only way to eliminate oil slicks is to eliminate the need to transport oil. Invest in development of clean fuels and build more nuclear power stations.
Keith L, UK

Great idea Keith L - let's have nuclear power instead of using oil! After all what could be worse than thousands of tons of poisonous, black sticky waste in our seas? Of course - radioactive waste! Why hasn't anyone else thought of this?
Andrew, London, UK

These events occur with depressing regularity

Sheila Blake, Vancouver, Canada
As usual the common denominator is profit/greed. The oil companies should not be given a choice. Effective regulations to mitigate such disasters should be drawn up and strictly enforced together with multi-hulled vessels. These events occur with depressing regularity.
Sheila Blake, Vancouver, Canada

Don't blame the crew, it's the owners, charters and moreover the policy makers who must be held accountable. As long as man's demand for oil remains and the economical pressure to move the oil faster and cheaper prevails, incidents such as these will occur repeatedly.
Gurmeet Singh, India

Oil spills can't be prevented. Unfortunately, accidents happen and always will.
Shawn, USA

This was inevitable

David McNeill, UK
This was inevitable from the moment the EU allowed single hulled oil tankers to remain in service until 2015. Can you imagine what rust buckets are out there now? The only way to get around this is pure hard cash. Make the owners pay the entire cost, including clean up and damage to livelihoods. If they don't then ban any of their ships from entering EU waters until they pay. The trouble is this sort of ship is registered under a flag of convenience and that's the real scandal.
David McNeill, UK

Let's not forget that the classification authorities have a role to play in the ship's safety. The Prestige was under the American Bureau of Shipping class having just come out of its annual survey (shipping's MOT). Yet this still happened. We need some answers.
Dave Sanderson, UK

The oil spill will be absorbed by nature within a year. It is not a disaster as the 'doom merchant environmentalists' are predicting. Far more oil is leaked into the sea from non oil tanker break ups, from the normal use of our petroleum hungry vehicles. This however is causing a real problem.
Mike, UK

What about using long-distance pipelines more? I'm sure the EU could fund such a project. It would cost less to transport as well.
Richard, UK

Shipping is the greenest, cheapest and safest form of mass transport. If shipping ceased, the world's economy is predicted to stop in three weeks. 20-30% of a spill evaporates within the first two days and the remainder is degraded on the surface, within the water column and on the bed by significant bacterial decay. Assuming this new slick doesn't hit the coast, recovery will occur within the year.
Tony, UK

The EU must impose regulations on shipping, paid for by the oil industry

Ted, UK
Write to your MEP now. Torrey Canyon, Amoco Cadiz, Braer, Sea Empress, Prestige... These all too regular disasters should just not be continuing to happen. The EU must impose much tighter regulations on shipping, with mandatory penalties for the owners and operators, and much better enforcement, paid for by the oil industry.
Ted, UK

There are millions of tons of oil safely transported every day around the world. All you hear about is the one the media want you to hear about. They don't report the safe arrival of every ship because it would be uninteresting. In this example, questions have to be asked of the Spanish for refusing to allow the ship into a port of refuge away from stormy seas. If they had done that then the resulting pollution could have been minimised.
John, UK

The most dangerous cargoes are carried with the lowest regulation

Ros Whitley, UK
Increasingly the most dangerous cargoes are being carried by the ships with the lowest regulation, Third World crews who often cannot read and shady owners who are little more than criminals. The leading nations should impose, by force if necessary, Western regulations on their ships.
Ros Whitley, UK

Changing oil tankers crews and routes is not the answer. Changing the design of oil tankers is the only way and any tankers that cannot be modified should be scrapped. If we can build a re-usable spacecraft we can certainly build an oil tanker that will never leak.
R.C. Robjohn, UK

A quadruple hulled ship. Simple.
Anon, UK

As disastrous as this is for fishing communities, all is not lost

Roger Morgan Freedlan, England
Of approx 1,800 oil tankers working the seas at the moment, 1,000 are single hulled. Big business has fought tooth and nail to stop these floating disasters in waiting from being immediately de-commissioned. Having said that, the Exxon Valdes spill was a real environmental eyeopener. The beaches that were left "untreated" apparently healed themselves roughly along the same timeline as "treated" beaches. As disastrous as this is for the Spanish fishing communities, all is not lost. It just takes a little time. I hope that the oil companies will pay these communities well for this.
Roger Morgan Freedlan, England

How about encouraging the use of bio fuels instead of fuels derived from crude oil, which helps the environment and negates the need to ship crude oil all over the world? The oil would still be needed for plastics etc but all of that can be produced near to where the oil is sourced and then shipped once it's in a more ecologically friendly state. This would revitalise farming in Europe (ridding us of the disastrous Common agricultural policy) and stop mountains of cash flooding into the pockets of totalitarian regimes in the Middle East.
Dave, UK

Only double-hulled vessels should be allowed to carry oil and other substances that pose a threat to the environment and wildlife.
Paul Driscoll, England

The oil majors take great care

Andrew, UK
I work in the oil industry and can assure you that age restrictions on ships are being tightened following the sinking of the Erika three years ago. The oil majors take great care to reduce the risk of accidents and spillages - which can cost billions to clean up and drive down share prices. But independent companies can make money by employing lower standards of seamanship and maintenance, and hiding behind complex chains of ownership and flags of convenience in the event of trouble. This is the problem that needs to be addressed.
Andrew, UK

Apparently share values are all these people (Andrew, UK) care about? How about the millions of creatures suffocating and starving to death? Until people start to care more about other creatures than about share values and oil prices this sort of thing is inevitable.
Giles Hogben, UK

Why not accompany tankers with tugs when they are near coastlines? This sort of thing can probably be avoided but it would probably eat into the profits of the oil companies.
Mike, UK

The problem lies with the shipping owners. To cut costs and bypass more stringent safety requirements, too many corporations opt to register under flags of convenience. It is time the ocean transporting of cargo be brought back under the control of governments who will ensure all safety measures are met. Using inexperienced crews, driven by the companies' greed to get the cargo through at all costs is no longer acceptable.
Steve T, UK

Spain's coast and maritime fauna are threatened by the oil spill from the break-up of the Prestige

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19 Nov 02 | Europe
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