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‘No lessons learned’ from Prestige disaster

23 April 2004

MADRID – Spain still lacks a reliable sea waste collection system despite the Prestige oil disaster, a report published Friday found.

Marine contamination experts said nearly 18 months after the Prestige catastrophe,  the country still lacked a ‘protocol’ which would make decision-making easier in the event of a similar disaster.

In November 2002, the Prestige oil tanker sank off the coast of Galicia, spilling thousands of tonnes of crude oil into the sea and causing long-term ecological damage to the region.

The former government of Jose Maria Aznar was heavily criticised for its handling of the crisis.

Researchers from the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC) said the Prestige disaster was proof that there are no existing systems to predict how the contamination will spread.

Manuel Espinoso, José Manuel Redondo and Alexei Platanov said existing coastal systems cannot be applied in open waters.

They said that although catastrophes on the same scale as the Prestige disaster only happen every ten years, deliberate or accidental crude spills from smaller vessels are more significant because they happen more frequently, both in oceans and closed seas like the Mediterranean.

The experts said these small oil spills are the most significant cause of maritime pollution, besides the waste left by vessels transporting chemical substances, and industrial and domestic waste water.

Proof of sea-borne hydrocarbon waste are the periodic oil slicks detected off the Mediterranean coastline, such as the one seen a few weeks ago on the Garraf coast  by Vilanova i la Geltrú, near Barcelona in Catalonia in north-east Spain.

They said it would be much easier to manager these crises if authorities could use oceanographic data similar to weather detecting technology.

Besides having the necessary infrastructure to obtain information on sea currents, wind speed and direction and other factors, Redondo said it would also be useful to access the information received by satellites or that used by the army.

According to the researchers, the ideal scenario when an oil spill is detected would be to combine oceanographic data and vessel-tracking data.

This would pinpoint the area affected and reduce the number of ships suspected of causing the spills to between five and ten.

After this, maritime inspectors could move in and compare samples of the oil spill with the carriers’ loads, determine responsibilities and impose the corresponding fines quickly.

The UPC is currently collaborating on a European project to create a model for predicting spills in the Mediterranean.

It is also participating in another project, promoted by the Ministry of Science and Technology, to create a service that predicts sea currents and follows the evolution of waste spills.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news