Spanish official accused over Prestige oil spill

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An appeals court in Spain overturns a lower court's decision to clear the former head of the merchant marine service of criminal responsibility for the 2002 Prestige oil spill.

Madrid – A court in Spain has accused the former head of the merchant marine service of criminal responsibility for the 2002 Prestige oil spill, judicial officials said.

They said an appeals court Tuesday overturned a lower court's decision to clear Jose Luis Lopez-Sors of responsibility in the case, and ruled he should be charged with "serious negligence".

On 19 November 2002, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker broke up and sank off Galicia, a region famed for its pristine coastline and ecological diversity, sparking Europe's worst oil spill.

The ship spewed out 64,000 tonnes of thick, heavy fuel oil into the waters, polluting thousands of kilometres (miles) along the Atlantic coast of France, Spain and Portugal.

Appeal judges said the decision by Spanish authorities to tow the vessel away from the coast amid a storm while it was spilling out oil was a "glaring error" and evidence of a "blunder".

The court overturned an earlier ruling made in March that described the decision to move the ill-fated Prestige away from the coast as "sensible and reasonable".

The judges also slammed then environment minister Francisco Alavarez-Cascos over his handling of the case, saying his "effectiveness had been conspicuous by its absence".

This new ruling leaves the door open for future lawsuits to be brought against the Spanish state, media reports said.

Lopez-Sors and the ship's former captain, Apostolis Mangouras, could go on trial early 2010 for "crimes against the environment".

Prosecutors also want first engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and first mate Irineo Maloto to appear in court but both have gone into hiding.

AFP / Expatica

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