Tanker Gushes More Oil into Spanish Waters
PONTEVEDRA, Spain, November 22, 2002 (ENS) -
From the ocean bottom off the northwest coast of Spain, the sunken oil
tanker "Prestige" today leaked thousands of tons of oil into
the sea causing a massive new oil slick that appears to be a major threat
to wildlife and fish populations along the coast.
officials say the tanker has sprung a leak from its holds, which
originally contained a total cargo of 77,000 metric tons (22 million
gallons) of heavy fuel oil. Satellite pictures from the the U.S. National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency
show the enormous new oil slick on the sea where the tanker sank about 60
The oil spill can be seen as dark areas in this
November 21 image taken by the IKONOS satellite from 423 miles in space.
The "Prestige," broke in two and sank off the Spanish
coast Tuesday, initially fouling 120 kilometers (75 miles) of the Spanish
Costa da Morte, or Coast of Death, with at least 4,000 tons of heavy fuel
oil. The new gush of oil from the sunken ship is distressing to
conservationists working to stem the damage.
"If this comes
ashore it could be a far worse wildlife crisis than we have had to deal
with so far," said Jay Holcomb, the leader of International Fund for
Animal Welfare's (IFAW) Emergency Relief oil spill team, which is working
with Xunta, the local wildlife authority for the Spanish province of
IFAW and Xunta today
opened a new rehabilitation center to help save wildlife caught in the
oil slick from the "Prestige."
The temporary center
has taken in its first 50 sea birds and by tomorrow another 100 are
expected to arrive. The birds are being transferred from two other
rehabilitation facilities that have acted as collection points.
"This new center
is vital if we are to save the birds that have already been rescued and those
that are now coming ashore," said Holcomb. "Our other great
concern is that there is a vast slick just off the coast at present and
if that comes ashore we are going to have a large number of oiled birds
needing to be rescued and rehabilitated."
The rehab center has been set up in a building provided by the
forestry department in Pontevedra, close to the coastline that has been
affected by the spill. It includes a dedicated kitchen with freezers to
prepare food for the birds, a stabilization room with holding pens where they
are tubed with fluids, facilities for blood tests, a wash and rinse area,
and recovery pools.
"It is critical
that the birds are given the right treatment if they are to survive. Many
are extremely weak and this new facility will provide their best chance
of making it. They are suffering from hypothermia, and dehydration when
they arrive. Our experienced rehabilitators, which includes
veterinarians, can now provide the care they need," said Holcomb.
The first critically
endangered Balearic shearwater has been reported oiled by the Prestige
spill according to the latest official data from wildlife recovery
centers in Galicia, Spain, the Spanish Ornithological Society
(SEO/BirdLife) said today.
are dispersing into the Atlantic Ocean from breeding colonies in the
Balearic Islands at the moment, traveling through the coastal waters off
the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coasts.
This species numbers an estimated 1,750 to 2,125 pairs. It was
recently identified as critically endangered during the preparation of
the new edition of the Spanish Red List of Threatened Birds by the
IUCN-World Conservation Union.
As of Thursday, 29
dead oiled birds had been collected, and 260 oiled birds had been sent to
rehabilitation centers for cleaning. This is in addition to the 250 birds
recorded oiled on the coast by SEO/BirdLife volunteers earlier this week.
The most affected
species are razorbill, gannet and guillemot. Birds that dive underwater
or swim on the surface are particularly vulnerable to oil slicks, says
BirdLife International. Seabirds are most vulnerable during breeding,
over-wintering or the moulting seasons when they tend to congregate in
large numbers on or close to the sea.
Oil destroys the
waterproofing properties of feathers. "Once wet, oiled birds often
succumb to hypothermia," BirdLife says. "Water-logged feathers
are heavy, making flight difficult or impossible, and reduced buoyancy
can lead to drowning. Birds often ingest oil while preening which results
explained how the oiled birds are treated at the recovery center. "The
birds are firstly stabilized by getting their temperatures back up to
acceptable levels and by being tubed fluids. They are then fed fluids and
food until blood tests, which check for infection and anemia, show they
are strong enough to be washed."
"Next they need
to recover their waterproofing and recondition in tanks prior to their
being released back into the wild. This process depends on the state of
each bird, but can take anything from several days to a few weeks,"
Finding somewhere to
release the birds will be difficult with so much of this coast affected
by the spill, he said. "We will take the advice of the local
wildlife experts to determine where best to do this."
Since the Prestige
sank more than 160 birds have been rescued, including gannets,
razorbills, cormorants, guillemot, kittiwake, and gulls. The seas around
the coastal islands close to Pontevedra is a national maritime park and
one of the country's most important areas for migratory birds and other
International is today calling on the European Commission (EC) to
urgently adopt new measures that strengthen marine safety and liability
regulations to help prevent future oil spills such as the Prestige
"The Prestige oil spill shows that it is imperative the
European Commission urgently adopt new measures that strengthen marine
safety and liability regulations to help prevent future oil spills such
as the Prestige disaster", said Miguel Naveso, head of BirdLife
International European Community Office in Brussels.
every three years the coastline of Europe is being devastated by a major
oil spill. On this basis we will have to suffer another four spills
before single-hulled tankers are due to be phased-out in 2015," he
said. The European Union has adopted regulations and directives to
strengthen European legislation on marine safety, which, if implemented
would improve on existing International Marine Organization standards and
guidelines. These make up the so-called Erika Package which covers
"immediate actions" (Erika I) and "long-term
measures" (Erika II).
"We could have
avoided the "Prestige" oil spill," Vice President in
charge of Transport and Energy Loyola de Palacio told the European
If all the proposals
made by the European Commission had been fully adopted and implemented,
both the Erika I and Erika II packages, the spill would not have
happened, she said.
with the "Pestige" underlines that the measures agreed at
Community level after the "Erika" incident [in December 1999]
address the heart of the matter and need to be fully implemented
urgently," she said. "Therefore I have written to all Member
States to call them to accelerate and anticipate as far as possible the
new EU legislation."