November 21, 2002

Spain at fault for extent of Prestige spill?

Nobody is saying it openly just yet, but there's increasing suspicion that the catastrophic spill from the tanker Prestige may have reached its present extent because Spanish officials refused to offer the vessel or the salvors a sheltered location for the vessel and ordered it to be held more than 60 nautical miles off the coast.

Yesterday, IMO issued a statement on the casualty, while INTERTANKO and BIMCO issued a joint statement on the casualty. You can access the IMO statement here.

Here's part of what the INTERTANKO/BIMCO statement said:

INTERTANKO and BIMCO have welcomed the statements of ABS and the Bahamas Maritime Authority that they are making available all of the historical records on Prestige. We believe that it is essential that all major marine casualties are comprehensively investigated and that the results are made public so that important lessons can be learned. We also join the Bahamas Maritime Authority in expressing our gratitude to the Spanish Rescue Services who rescued the entire crew.

This incident highlights the industry's concern surrounding coastal states' continued reluctance to admit ships into ports of refuge. When ships are not granted such refuge, the potential for a serious incident is frequently increased and the safety of the crew jeopardized. The emergency transfer of cargo and other measures to aid the stricken vessel may be similarly hindered with a consequent increased threat to the environment.

Accordingly, INTERTANKO and BIMCO once again stress the importance for all coastal states to have developed plans for places of refuge and urge Governments to nominate appropriate waters/ports/anchorages. Both the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the European Union are equally committed to this need and the Secretary General of the IMO has underlined that this is an issue that needs to be solved as a matter of urgency, and is under active consideration in IMO.

Could the Prestige spill have been mitigated had the ship been given refuge? Take a look here for the extensive technical information on the vessel and the casualty that ABS has issued

At this stage of inquiries, it's far too early to draw conclusions as to the cause of the spill, or to second guess anyone involved in dealing with the casualty. Unless, of course, you're a politician or a bureaucrat. The European Commission is thought to be about to suggest that EU countries ban single hulled tankers from their waters ahead of current phase out dates.

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