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France Battles Spreading Oil Pollution

January 4, 2003

BORDEAUX, France (AP) _ Oil from a sunken tanker soiled France’s southwestern coast Saturday, frustrating efforts by cleanup crews to contain the spreading pollution.

Even as workers in white protective suits scooped up balls of oil with gloved hands, larger black clumps _ some as large as 18 inches across _ washed ashore. Local authorities appealed for extra help.

``It’s no longer little balls, but plates″ of oil, said Col. Patrick Toufflet, a cleanup commander in the Landes region, south of Bordeaux, which mobilized about 100 workers, including soldiers and fire officers, on Saturday.

Laboratory tests have traced oil from the Landes’ beaches back to the aging tanker Prestige, which sank Nov. 19 off northwestern Spain. The tanker spilled thousands of tons of gluey oil, blackening vast swaths of the Spanish coast.

Patches of oil began washing up along hundreds of miles of French beaches this week. Authorities in the Gironde region, north of the Landes, said Saturday that tests on oil found there confirmed that it also came from the Prestige.

``The pollution ... is on average twice what it was″ on Friday, Paul Buchoux, a Gironde official, said Saturday.

President Jacques Chirac vowed to go after ship owners and crews who try to sidestep maritime rules.

``France and Europe will not allow shady businessman, rascals of the sea, to cynically profit from the lack of transparency,″ Chirac said Friday.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, directed by Chirac to personally oversee management of the cleanup, also expressed outrage Friday as he trudged across oil-dirtied beaches at Cap Ferret, an Atlantic coastal town famous for its oyster beds.

He promised an initial $52 million to help.

The single-hulled Prestige was carrying 77,000 tons of oil when it sank.

Spain’s government drew stiff criticism at home for its handling of the oil slick _ notably for not acknowledging the scale of the disaster fast enough and failing to provide adequate resources for cleanup.

Anxious to avoid similar criticism, Raffarin acted quickly to ease fears over the potential damage the slicks will have on the French fishermen and tourism.

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