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France, Spain plan joint Prestige claim

BREST, France, Nov 26 (AFP) – French and Spanish judges are considering merging their separate probes into last year’s Prestige oil spill disaster and launching a joint lawsuit, officials said Wednesday.

The chief prosecutor for Brest, Francois Nicot, said warrants to quiz people involved had already been issued by authorities in each country, but “it would likely be disruptive if each of the judges question the same people abroad.”

He said the idea of mounting a joint lawsuit was being mulled, but that it was up to the French and Spanish investigating magistrates, Bernard Simier and Javier Collazo, to decide together if it would go ahead.

“A joint solution is one theory among many others…. Two lawsuits or just one trial are both possible,” Nicot said after a meeting Wednesday in the French Atlantic port city.

The two judges said their two probes were already handling 1,000 complaints, 700 of them in Spain, which was worst hit by the November, 2001 spill that environmentalists say overshadowed that of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. The clean-up bill has been put at at least EUR 700 million (USD 830 million), with some long-term estimates on clean-up and economic damage going as high as EUR 8 billion.

Hundreds of beaches along northern Spain and southwestern France were blackened by gobs of oil from the Prestige, a Liberian-registered that broke apart after Spanish authorities ordered it head to sea when it ran into difficulties.

It now lies at a depth of 4,000 meters (13,200 feet), after having lost two-thirds of its 77,000 tonnes of fuel.

Three people so far have been charged by Spanish authorities: the tanker’s captain, chief engineer and another officer.

The Brest meeting between the investigating judges was their second, after one on May 21 in La Coruna in northwestern Spain.


                                                                Subject: French news