Marine Oil Spills
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On November 19th 2002 the oil tanker Prestige sank off the Atlantic coast of Spain.   It was carrying 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.   About 12,000 tonnes of this was spilled and a few hundred tonnes have  already appeared on Spanish beaches.  Most of the oil (90 percent according to some estimates) seems to have gone down with the ship to the bottom of the sea, where it will turn into a gel which may or may not reappear at some later date.  

Greenpeace of course is calling this "one of the world's worst environmental disasters" (19 Nov 2002).   But is it?    How does a spill of 12 - 77,000 tonnes compare with other famous marine oil spillages?  

Tanker and place of spill '000 Tonnes oil spilt Year
Atlantic Empress, Tobago 287 1979
ABT Summer, Angola 260 1991
Castillo de Bellver, South Africa 252 1983
Amoco Cadiz, France 223 1978
Haven, Italy 144 1991
Odyssey Canada 132 1988
Torrey Canyon, Britain  119 1967
Urquiola, Spain 100 1976
Hawaian Patriot Northern Pacific 95 1977
Independenta, Turkey 95 1979
Jacob Maersk, Portugal 88 1975
Braer, Britain 85 1993
Khark 5, Morocco 80 1989
Aegean Sea, Spain 74 1992
Sea Empress, Britain 72 1996
Exxon Valdez, United States 37 1989
     
Prestige, Spain 12-77 ?? 2002

Source: International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation

Most environments around these previous spills had recovered within a couple of years.  Bird populations in particular re-grew rapidly.   Local shellfish beds and sheltered inlets will take the longest to recover but overall this accident looks likely to be locally damaging but probably not an ecological disaster.  

Jim Thornton Nottingham, 23 Nov 2002

See also Letter from Pablo

 

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Last modified: September 20, 2006