The tragic oil spill from the tanker Prestige now affecting Spain's Galician coast could not obscure an encouraging, if unpublicised, achievement.
The tragic oil spill from the tanker Prestige now affecting Spain's Galician coast could not obscure an encouraging, if unpublicised, achievement. The number of such accidents has dropped extraordinarily over the past decade. In the 1970s there was an average of 24 major spills a year, shedding over 320,000 tonnes of oil into the seas; in 1979, the worst year, 34 accidents spilled 608,000 tonnes. Last year there were just three spills, releasing only 8,000 tonnes.
The Prestige will add a blip to this striking decline. However, it should not detract from what has been done by international regulations standards and treaties. More, of course, still needs to be done. Ships should be made to sail further from dangerous coastlines such as these. Single-hulled tankers should be phased out before 2015. And tougher inspections should remove old sub-standard – but cheap to hire – tankers from the seas.
Pictures of black tides and oiled birds naturally stir public imagination, but environmental pressure groups must be careful not to overstate their case in trying to capitalise upon it. By describing such spills as "environmental catastrophes" they risk making their economic and social effects, which have much the greatest impact on the area, even worse by causing tourists to shun the areas and causing shoppers to avoid their fish for years to come. There are real environmental catastrophes facing the world, such as global warming, the desertification that threatens to turn one third of the world's crop land into dust, and the rapid extinction of countless species. By failing to discriminate, they threaten to undermine the credibility upon which they ultimately depend.Reuse content