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Spain criticized for towing burning fishing boat out to sea

April 16, 2015

MADRID (AP) — Greenpeace on Thursday criticized Spain’s government for towing a burning Russian fishing boat full of fuel out to sea after it caught fire in a Canary Islands port, saying the fuel oil in the ship that ended up sinking poses an environmental threat.

The group demanded that Spain make plans to extract about 1,400 metric tons of thick fuel oil from the Russian trawler Oleg Naydenov, which caught fire in port Saturday and was towed to sea as a precaution.

Authorities were trying to find a submersible capable of diving 2,400 meters (7,900 feet) to examine the ship and the spot where it sank Tuesday night, about 24 kilometers (15 miles) south of Gran Canaria island and the popular Maspalomas beach resorts area, Spain’s Development Ministry said.

Some oil slicks were spotted drifting southwest about 64 kilometers (40 miles) away from the island, the ministry said, and Spanish National Television showed an image of a slick it said was about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) long.

Development Minister Ana Pastor was on Gran Canaria to oversee oil spill monitoring efforts and the preparation of oil removal efforts if authorities decide they are needed.

The ministry said the plan in place to deal with oil spilled from the fishing boat was at the next to the lowest alert level possible.

Spain was hit with heavy international criticism in 2002 after it decided to tow a leaking oil tanker away from the country’s northwestern coastal region of Galicia instead of bringing it into port.

The tanker Prestige broke in half, spilling at least 23,000 tons of heavy oil that covered pristine Galician coastline and affected beaches in France and Portugal.

Some experts said the spill would have been much less damaging if the Prestige had been hauled into port so the oil could have been removed, though others said the spill and its environmental damage was inevitable.

The Prestige was carrying 77,000 tons of oil. The oil that did not spill was removed from the sunken ship’s tanks.

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