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Sunken Tanker in Spain Leaking Oil Daily

December 10, 2002

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MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A tanker that spilled 5 million gallons of oil off northwestern Spain before it split in two and sank is leaking about 33,000 gallons of oil every day, officials said Tuesday.

The leaks from the tanker Prestige could continue into 2006, said Emilio Lora Tamayo, who led a scientific commission studying the disaster.

It was more bad news for the Spanish coast, one of the world’s richest fishing areas, that has been tarred by the oil washing ashore.

``We can seal the cracks, not all of them, of course,″ Lora Tamayo said. ``Or we can try to pump out the remaining oil.″

The Prestige sank Nov. 19, six days after it cracked in a storm, and took about 15 million gallons of oil to the bottom of the Atlantic. Spanish officials insisted then the oil wasn’t a threat because near-freezing temperatures two miles beneath the surface would cause it to solidify.

Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the oil is leaking from several cracks in the bow and stern.

He said a French research submarine that discovered the cracks would study the damaged vessel again.

Rajoy said officials were watching a slick measuring some 35 miles by 11 miles on the water above the tanker, 152 miles out to sea. He said boats were working to scoop up at least two other major slicks some 50 miles off the Spanish coast.

The ships and fishermen in smaller boats have scooped up 3.4 million gallons so far.

On land, thousands of people have been working daily to clean up the 200 Spanish beaches and hundreds of rocky inlets already tarred by the toxic oil.

A ban on fishing and shellfish harvesting has forced thousands of fishermen to depend on government handouts of $40 a day.

France and Portugal are also on alert should the slicks reach their coasts.

In a state television interview Monday, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar described the spill as ``Spain’s worst ecological catastrophe.″ He dismissed allegations by opposition leaders and environmental groups that the government mishandled the disaster, but acknowledged errors may have been made.

``It’s possible that we have made some mistakes, but after realizing that we were wrong, we’ve tried to correct them,‴ he said.

Aznar rejected criticism of his decision to tow the ship out to sea instead of docking it and draining the oil. He said no port would have accepted the ship.

He pledged that new European Union directives would ensure that such an accident will ``never happen again,″ and that no aging, single-hulled vessels like the Prestige carrying dangerous cargo will be allowed into Spain.

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