Fishermen count cost of tanker spill

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THE marisqueros (seafood fishermen) of north-western Spain were yesterday counting the cost of an oil slick seeping into the coastal inlets of Galicia from the grounded Greek tanker Aegean Sea. All fishing, the main industry of the Galician city of La Coruna, was suspended for two weeks, a pre-Christmas economic catastrophe for seafaring local families, and worse was feared.

The tanker stopped blazing early yesterday but the spill from its 83,000-ton load was seeping in a strip about 20m wide but stretching for several kilometres, along the Galician coast and into the seafood-productive inlets.

'It takes only a few drops of oil to ruin a ton of oysters. This is a national catastrophe for Spain's best seafood region, if not for the world,' a local environmentalist was quoted as saying last night. The mayor of the port of La Coruna, where the tanker ran aground and burst into flames within 100m of the local lighthouse, was stunned. 'This is known as an environmentally friendly town. We keep it clean. We have created parks and greenery. Then something like this comes along and causes havoc,' he said. 'There's not only the loss to the seafood produce. The toxic fumes from the blaze, combined with the rain, are poisoning the land, the trees, plants and crops.'

The tanker captain and his senior crewmen were questioned yesterday by a judge and remained in custody last night in a hotel. The captain, named as Kostadinos Stavridis, blamed wild storms on Thursday night, saying he was trying to get past the lighthouse point and into the port for shelter. Local judicial officials said he had not called upon the services of the port's duty pilot, as port regulations demand, and was likely to be charged with negligence.

The north-western tip of Spain is famed for its seafood. What most worries the local fishermen - around 800 men with 215 small boats in the immediate vecinity - is that, regardless of actual damage, seafood consumption generally plunges as people avoid any risk for weeks, sometimes months after such accidents.

(Photograph omitted)