Massive new slick reaches Spanish coast

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The Independent Online

The first traces of a huge oil slick from the sunken tanker Prestige surged on to beaches in north-west Spain yesterday while thousands of residents took to the streets to protest at widespread damage to the region's coast.

The first traces of a huge oil slick from the sunken tanker Prestige surged on to beaches in north-west Spain yesterday while thousands of residents took to the streets to protest at widespread damage to the region's coast.

Authorities said deposits of fuel from the vessel had washed up on Atlantic beaches at Muxia and Cape Tourinan along Galicia's rugged Costa de la Muerte (coast of death). A larger slick of 9,000 tons of oil still churned in choppy seas 19 miles offshore. The oil threatening the region's coast is a secondary slick from the Bahamas-registered Prestige, which broke in two and sank in deep Atlantic waters 12 days ago 130 miles offshore. Its hull was breached on 13 November in a storm off Cape Finisterre.

As anxious fishermen scaanned the horizon for signs of the main slick yesterday, officials said coastal currents and shifting winds made it difficult to predict if and when it would reach the coast. "What most concerns us is the wind," Mariano Rajoy, the Deputy Prime Minister, said. "There is a possibility the slick will reach the coast, although it will not necessarily be grave."

A flotilla of clean-up boats laboured against rough seas yesterday to suck up the thick petroleum sludge before it could reach land. Meanwhile 17,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of the Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela, in protest at the spill, the second to blight the region in a decade.

Wielding placards reading "Never Again" and "No More Black Tides," they urged the government to declare the region a catastrophe zone.

"We feel angry and powerless," said one resident. "The government and the EU have done absolutely nothing to avert this disaster."

Ten years ago, the tanker Mar Egeo broke up, dumping tons of oil along the same coast. The current spill has put nearly 7,000 fishermen and shellfish gatherers out of work, and polluted a 250-mile stretch of coast. Provisional estimates put economic losses at €42m (£27m).

Authorities said a French salvage submarine, the Nautile, would inspect the Prestige in coming days, to determine whether oil was still leaking from the wreck.

The tanker's hull rests in two parts at a depth of 2.2 miles, and is believed to contain a further 60,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, locked in a semi-solid state by low temperatures and intense pressure on the seabed.

Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister, announced yesterday that a single-hulled tanker, the Maltese-flagged Moskow-sky, had been expelled from Spanish coastal waters in the first use of tighter shipping regulations agreed by France and Spain last week.

The bilateral agreement has since been backed by Portugal and Italy, and covers vessels made more than 15 years ago, navigating within 200 miles of the coast.

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