A major oil spill with significant consequences
On 13 November 2002, while carrying a cargo of 77,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from St. Petersburg, Russia and Ventspils, Latvia to Singapore, the Aframax tanker Prestige encountered heavy weather off the northwest coast of Spain. The tanker suffered structural failures and developed a substantial starboard list. A distress call was made to Spanish authorities. The majority of the crew was evacuated by helicopter and Spanish government officials came on board to enforce various orders. The Prestige was taken under tow and moved south and then west. Meanwhile, the tanker suffered buckling of the main deck and loss of some hull plating. Oil leaked from the cargo tanks into the ocean. Everyone was finally evacuated from the Prestige, which broke in two and sank on 19 November. There is a wide variation in the estimates of oil spilled during the casualty and sinking, ranging from three to twenty million gallons. Much of that oil, though, came ashore on the coasts of Spain, Portugal, and (to a lesser extent) France. Government personnel and thousands of volunteers worked to clean up the shoreline. Commercial fishing and shellfish areas were heavily impacted, as were several nature preserves. After several years, it became apparent that much oil was still in the wreck of the Prestige on the ocean floor. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were sent down to remove the recoverable oil and seal the hull to minimize discharges from oil that could not be recovered. In the aftermath, the European Union tightened its marine environmental protection regulations and pressed the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to take action. The phase-out dates for single-hull oil tankers were accelerated and restrictions were placed on the carriage of heavy fuel oil as cargo in single-hull tankers. In a major miscarriage of justice, the master of the Prestige was arrested and held in Spain for an inordinate period on charges of impeding the movement of the tanker during the crisis. The Kingdom of Spain brought suit against the American Bureau of Shipping for negligent classification of the tanker. The suit was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence. The criminal trial in Spain of the master and various others has only now commenced in Spain. The saga continues.