In November 2002, the 26-year old, Bahamas-registered single-hulled vessel Prestige sprang a leak off the coast of Galicia. On 19 November, it finally broke apart and sank.
Prestige carried 80 million litres of heavy fuel oil, which began leaking from one of its tanks. An estimated 64 million litres still remain at the bottom of the sea.
Salvage ships attempted to tow the Prestige to deeper waters in order to prevent the dispersal of oil on Spanish coasts. 16 million litres of oil were dispersed in the sea, affecting both wildlife and fishing and shellfish farming. Many Spanish fishermen therefore assisted in the collection of floating oil.
The accident gave rise to rapid response from the European Union, which gave economic assistance to the clean-up efforts and compensation for the affected fishermen. This effort was made possible by the ratification of the “Bunker Convention”, authorised in 2001, which facilitated financial help to persons who suffered damage caused by spills of oil.
The remaining cargo has not yet been landed. Experts disagree on whether the intense pressure at the bottom of the sea may be sufficient to rupture the tanks. French divers have reported that oil is still leaking from the wreck. Some experts say that it may be more harmful to try to land the oil, because such a project would increase the risk of further dispersal.
Currently, the remaining oil is under pressure below sea level and extreme pollution of coastlines, as we have seen it in similar cases, has until now been avoided. But according to some experts, it is a matter of time before the remaining oil is dispersed.
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Links and references:
Response of the European Union:
Information about ecological consequences:
The “Bunker Convention”: