Spill from oil tanker Prestige will cost a billion euros to clear up

Jan 16, 2003 01:00 AM

The ecological disaster provoked by the spill from the oil tanker Prestige, which sank off the coast of Spain two months ago, will cost a billion euros to clear up and, if the Spanish government has its way, the whole of Europe will end up paying for it. "Our initial economic evaluation, which could be surpassed by reality, is EUR 1 bn [£650 m]," the Spanish finance minister, Cristobal Montoro, said.
He described the spill as "one of the worst ecological and economic disasters in [Spain's] history", and said he had written to the president of the European commission, Romano Prodi, for help in paying the massive bill. He said Spain wanted aid from various existing EU funds, but was also asking for a special fund to be created for the Prestige disaster.

Fuel from the vessel, which is leaking from the bottom of the sea 120 miles away, continues to arrive daily along a 250-mile stretch of Spain's north-west coast. It has also reached France's Arcachon region in recent days, closing down its valuable oyster industry.
News of the cost of the spill comes after the People's party of the prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, desperate to salvage some domestic political capital from the mess, had boasted about winning much more EU relief money than France got after the oil tanker Erika sank off the Brittany coast in 1999. The EU's transport commissioner, a Spaniard and indeed a minister under Mr Aznar, Loyola de Palacio, said Madrid had persuaded the EU to pay out EUR 110 mm, against the EUR 10 mm obtained by France for the Erika. "Spain has obtained the reprogramming of EUR 80 mm of fishing funds and 30 more to compensate those affected," she said.

Mr Aznar, who has taken his first major political battering as a result of the government's mishandling of the Prestige disaster, has claimed that a total of EUR 265 mm will come from the EU. But a report, analysing his figures, said that only EUR 5 mm of that would be new money.
The rest had already been earmarked for Spain, but would now be diverted to pay for the disaster. Opinion polls show that Spaniards believe their government has badly mishandled the Prestige affair.

Mr Aznar's government stands accused of towing the ailing tanker into rough seas where it was bound to break up, rather than allowing it to be repaired safely, if messily, in a Spanish port. It also falsely claimed that no oil would reach Spanish beaches, and then went on to enrage local people in the north-western region of Galicia by bungling a subsequent clean-up operation.
The fact that a key minister and the regional premier of Galicia, both from the People's party, spent the November weekend when the Prestige was sinking at shooting parties has done nothing to convince people that Mr Aznar's party did its best under difficult circumstances.

Attempts to find out what really happened during the chaotic and disastrous week when the Prestige went down have been stymied by the government's refusal to allow public officials to testify to a special committee set up bythe regional parliament of Galicia.
Opposition parties have now walked out of the commission. The government has announced, instead, that it will leaflet households to tell Spaniards what it is doing about the Prestige.

Source: Guardian Unlimited
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