Oil blockades seafood capital

LA CORUNA (Reuter) - Improved weather conditions yesterday allowed salvage operations to resume on the wreckage of the Greek tanker, Aegean Sea, which broke up on Thursday spilling thousands of tons of crude oil along 100km (62 miles) of a coastline known as Europe's seafood capital. The regional government has barred fishing in the area until at least 15 December.

Thirteen vessels were employed to clean up the oil slick. It appeared to be under control local officials said, but it was too early to say how much of the tanker's 24 million gallon cargo of crude oil had spilt or who was responsible for the accident in which the ship ran aground, split in two and caught fire.

The Aegean Sea's Greek captain, Constantine Stavrides, was released yesterday on payment of 1 million pesetas (pounds 5,650) bail. The 26 members of his Filipino and Greek crew were giving statements to judges in La Coruna.

The governor of La Coruna, Pilar Lledo, said the accident appeared to be due to negligence, and that Mr Stavrides had failed to co-operate with the Spanish authorities soon after the ship ran aground.

'There appears to be ample evidence of professional negligence, and initially he (Mr Stavrides) refused to co-operate at a time when his information was vital to the salvage operation,' she told reporters.

The port of Ferrol, about 25km from La Coruna, remained closed as small vessels sought to control the oil slick and prevent it from entering the estuary. However, Greenpeace said measures taken to control the spill were insufficient and cosmetic.

'All that is being done is to try to combat the visual effect, forgetting long-term contamination effects,' Jeremy Leggett, the Greenpeace representative, told a news conference in La Coruna. Mr Leggett, who witnessed the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, estimated that the Aegean Sea had been carrying double the volume of crude.

Juan Lopez Ugalde, contamination co-ordinator for Greenpeace in Spain, said it was still too early to assess the damage from the spill, but he described it as an ecological disaster. 'We have already located more than 1,000 birds smothered by the oil, and have sighted many dolphins in the area,' he said.

Local volunteers collected molluscs from the affected beaches to try to save the local shellfish industry, one of Galicia's most important revenue earners, but 215 boats and 800 crew will be left idle for the next 10 days. Galicia could face severe problems. Nearly 20 per cent of the population lives off the fishing industry, which is worth around 30 billion pesetas to the regional economy.

In Madrid, the state-owned oil company, Repsol SA, which chartered the vessel, said it had passed its revision by Lloyd's in October, and and was considered to be a 'green tanker'.