- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

MADRID (AP) A court upheld yesterday an order jailing the captain of the sunken oil tanker Prestige, whose spilled cargo caused what could be Spain's worst ecological disaster.
Globs of oil from the massive spill, which have tarred Spain's coastline, began soiling the French coast this week, frustrating efforts by cleanup crews yesterday to contain the spreading pollution.
Even as French workers in white protective suits scooped up balls of oil with gloved hands, larger black clumps some as wide as 18 inches washed ashore. Local authorities appealed for more 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 firefighters. Two hundred more soldiers should arrive on beaches tomorrow to speed the cleanup, Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot told LCI television.
Hundreds of miles of French coast are affected. In the Gironde region, authorities ordered a halt in sales of oysters from the Bay of Arcachon, which harvests 12,000 tons of oysters a year, 10 percent of France's annual production.
In the same region, globs of oil have washed up on dikes protecting a nature reserve that houses wild swans, herons and other wildlife.
Lab tests have traced the oil to the Prestige, the aging, single-hulled tanker that was carrying 77,000 tons of oil when it sank off northwestern Spain.
The Prestige's hull cracked in a storm Nov. 13. The ship broke in two and sank six days later after being towed out to sea. It spilled at least a quarter of its cargo, tarring hundreds of miles of Spanish coast and forcing thousands of fishermen and other workers to live off government handouts.
The provincial court of A Coruna rejected an appeal of the jailing of the ship's Greek captain, Apostolous Mangouras, saying there was "solid and conclusive" evidence he disobeyed Spanish authorities in refusing to have the stricken tanker towed away from the coast.
The court, located in the coastal region, where the oil spill has devastated the local fishing industry, set the captain's bail at $3.1 million. Capt. Mangouras has been in prison since Nov. 17.
The court also urged investigations into whether government decisions during the crisis made matters worse.
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 not allocating adequate resources for cleanup efforts.
The court said it should be ascertained if the "erratic path" which Spanish authorities ordered the ship to take on being towed contributed to widening the crack in the vessel.
Many experts, including the American Bureau of Shipping, which validates a ship's seaworthiness, believe the government's decision to tow the vessel increased the likelihood of its splitting and sinking.
They argue that the damage would have been less had the Prestige been taken into port and the oil pumped off.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar insists that the decision to tow was appropriate, saying that no port would have accepted a ship in such condition.
As the cleanup began in France, thousands of volunteers and soldiers continued the battle of cleaning the beaches and inlets north and south of A Coruna. More than a dozen anti-pollution boats have been contracted to try to suck up the slicks at sea.
Compounding the situation, the Prestige's wreck lies 2.2 miles under sea and is still spewing out thousands of gallons of oil daily.
Bad weather has prevented the French research submarine Nautile from diving to continue trying to patch the more than 20 cracks believed to be in the vessel.
On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac vowed to go after ship owners and crews who try to sidestep maritime rules.
"France and Europe will not allow shady businessmen, rascals of the sea, to cynically profit from the lack of transparency," Mr. Chirac said.

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