photography by Paul Hardy Carter

Unpaid Worker for the Oil Industry

San Vincente del Mar, Galicia, Spain. December 2002.

San Vincente del Mar, Galicia, Spain. December 2002.

When the Prestige oil tanker sank, fully laden, off the coast of Galicia in north eastern Spain her cargo soon showed up on the beaches and the rocky coast. I’d never witnessed an oil recovery operation before and I was amazed by the ‘one handful at a time’ nature of the thing. This gentleman had just spent the whole day picking lumps of crude oil off the rocks by hand. His expression says to me ‘I know a little about the true cost of oil’.

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On 19 November 2002 the ‘Prestige’, a bulk tanker carrying 77,000 tons of oil, broke in two and sank off the coast of Galicia, northwest Spain.

It had been obvious for some days that the vessel was about to break up. The captain had asked permission to bring his ship inshore and have the oil pumped off safely. The Spanish government had refused. Once the expected disaster had occurred oil started pouring out of the two halves of the ship even before they sank.

The governor of Galicia, previously a member of General Franco’s fascist government, issued orders to arrest the captain and then announced that he was going on a hunting trip for a few days.

While the oil made its way towards the coast the government insisted the captain was responsible and that the shipping line would pay any clear-up costs, but as one of the NGOs involved stated at the time “The Prestige is Bahamas flagged, American classed, Greek owned by a company that may or may not be registered in Liberia, and chartered by a business that could be Russian or Swiss. Nobody yet knows.”

The oil hit the beautiful rugged coast of Galicia a few days later and, while the government had no contingency plans or specialist equipment, volunteers from all over Spain arrived to help the locals clear up. Contamination caused the immediate closure of the fishing industry, the major local employer.

A month later the prime minister of Spain, José Maria Aznar, acknowledged that his government had made bad decisions, and that the ship would not have broken up if the captain had been given the assistance he had requested.

Two years later the wreck was still leaking oil.

Comment by Paul on January 13, 2009 1:13 pm

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