The Prestige: one year on, a continuing disaster | WWF

The Prestige: one year on, a continuing disaster

Posted on
06 November 2003
London, UK - WWF warns in a critical new report that the Prestige oil spill crisis is not over, with both the marine environment and the fishing sector on the north-western coast of Spain still suffering from the disaster one year after the tanker sank. This conclusion comes despite claims by the Spanish government that the affected area is recovering well. The WWF report, The Prestige: one year on, a continuing disaster, reveals that 64,000 tonnes of oil were spilled by the Prestige — 60 percent more than initially estimated. It further stresses that, in addition to the 13,000 tonnes of oil remaining in the wreck, there are still between 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes of oil drifting offshore and periodically landing on the coast. According to the report, damage to fishing and related economic sectors, tourism, and the natural heritage along 3,000km of coastline polluted by the spill may last for over a decade and cost approximately €5 billion, with society at large paying 97.5 percent of it. Around 30,000 people in the fishery and shellfish sectors have been directly affected. After the fisheries were reopened — too early according to WWF — some local fishermen's organizations have reported an 80 percent drop of their normal catch. The study also highlights that the large quantity of oil that sank onto the bed of shallower coastal waters raises serious risks of contamination by toxic pollutants. Contaminants on the sea bed can enter the food chain through organisms that ingest sediments, and eventually end up in products of commercial value, such as sea bass, octopus, crab, and shrimp. The Spanish government has prepared a €12.5 billion recovery plan for Galicia. However, WWF is concerned this plan puts too much emphasis on crude and rapid economic development, and that it is likely to increase Galicia's environmental problems rather than help the province recover from its damaged environment and resources. "Until now, the Spanish government's management of the catastrophe has neither been driven by environmental criteria nor been transparent," said Raul Garcia, Marine Office at WWF-Spain and author of the report. "If the government continues to declare that the situation is under control this looks like a cover-up rather than a clean-up." WWF is also very concerned by the fact that total investment on research into the Prestige oil spill will probably not reach €10 million, compared with around €270 million for research into the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill. The conservation organization points out that the Prestige spill, because of its complexity and magnitude, holds huge potential for scientific findings of global importance, and that failure to carry out appropriate research will hamper the development of effective means to regenerate the damaged ecosystems and commercial resources. According to WWF, it is crucially important to strengthen maritime safety legislation to minimize the risk of such a crisis happening again. "WWF urges the shipping nations — through the International Maritime Organization — to identify the world's most sensitive and vulnerable areas, with the aim of declaring them Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas," said Simon Cripps, Director of WWF International's Endangered Sea Programme. "Such areas, in conjunction with stricter shipping regulations, will help reduce the impact of further oil and other spills." The Prestige tanker sank on 19 November 2002, after an erratic six-day drift near the Galician coast. Some 300,000 sea birds (mainly common guillemots, Atlantic puffins and razorbills) are estimated to have died from the oil spill. This is one of the non-natural events most deadly to wildlife ever to have occurred in Europe. For further information: Claire Doole Press Office, WWF International Tel.: +41 79 477 35 64 Olivier van Bogaert Press Office, WWF International Tel.: +41 22 364 95 54 NOTE • Six Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas have been formally accepted by the IMO. They are the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Sabana-Camaguey archipelago (Cuba), the Malpelo Island (Columbia), the Florida Keys (United States), the Wadden Sea (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands) and Paracas (Peru). Two additional PSSAs have received provisional acceptance and will be accepted in June 2004. They are the Torres Strait (Australia and Papua-New Guinea), and the Western European waters (Belgium, the UK, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal).
Oil collected on the "Death Coast", near the village of Carmelle, North-Western Spain.
© WWF / Raúl García