France and Spain to impose stricter tanker safety controls
Spain and France said they would impose exhaustive safety checks on all single-hull oil tankers more than 15 years
old that enter their waters, in a bid to avert a repetition of the Prestige tanker disaster. Any ships deemed
dangerous will be expelled from the nations' waters, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said in a conference
with French President Jacque Chirac.
The leaders said they would propose that the rest of the European Union adopt the measures as well. "We have decided that enough is enough, that we will take the initiative and will propose to our partners that they do too," said Chirac. "As far as we are concerned, the decision is irreversible.”
Chirac and Aznar said that all suspect tankers within the country's exclusive economic zones, which stretch about 230
miles from the coast, will be checked. The measure will also cover ships carrying tar.
The two leaders were speaking some two weeks after the 26-year-old single-hull Prestige sprung a leak Nov. 13. Six days later, the vessel split in two and sank, taking most of its 20 mm gallons of fuel oil to the ocean floor. The Spanish government revised its figures for size of the Prestige's spillage, raising it from 2.9 mm gallons to 4.5 mm gallons. Ecologists have accused the Spanish government of purposely underestimating the size of the spill.
French Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot, who flew over the disaster area, said a three-person French submarine will
arrive in the area to check if the Prestige is still leaking oil from the sea floor 1,800 feet below. Meanwhile, as
improving weather conditions facilitated clean-up operations, authorities were keeping an eye on whether more slicks
were creeping north-eastward, beyond the Galicia region initially affected, to the neighbouring northern coastal area
of Asturias on the Bay of Biscay. Regional officials said three small slicks were spotted some 30 miles from the
Asturias' Maritime Salvage agency insisted the slicks were from the Prestige. But central government officials in the region said the oil came from another ship that it said emptied its tanks at sea. That ship was not identified.
Elsewhere, some 50 oil-covered birds were found dead on the coast off southern Spain, hundreds of miles from where
the Prestige went down. Miguel Angel Valladares of the World Wildlife Fund in Madrid said the group was carrying out
tests on the birds but that given the southerly migratory direction of the birds, it looked as if it they had been
affected by oil from the Prestige.
In Galicia, wildlife rescue centres were treating some 400 oil-coated birds, but up to 8,000 were believed to have been affected, the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement. The disaster has prompted a precautionary ban on fishing along 300 miles of Spanish coastline, affecting some 7,000 workers.
Cleanup work on land and on sea continued, raising the total amount of oil scraped off Galicia's coast to nearly 450,000 gallons of oil waste from 141 beaches. Regional authorities said anti-pollution boats had so far vacuumed 520,000 gallons from the main slick caused by the Prestige, said to be located some 80 miles off the coast from the Galician port of A Coruna.