The making of an ecological disaster

Ian Willmore ianw at foe.co.uk
Mon Nov 25 06:59:37 MST 2002


Thanks a lot. Good article - but not enough background on who owned what. That's
where it really gets interesting in my opinion!

Louis Proyect wrote:

> Wall St. Journal, Nov. 25, 2002
>
> OIL TROUBLE
>
> The Making of a Disaster:
> The Prestige's Last Hours
>
> Lessons of the Past Sealed Oil Tanker's Fate
> As Spain, Portugal, Fearing Spills, Sent It Away
> By BHUSHAN BAHREE, CARLTA VITZTHUM and ERIK PORTANGER
> Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
>
> The oil tanker Prestige was trailing an expanding slick of oil and its
> badly fractured hull looked ready to rupture on Nov. 13. Then it came in
> sight of a lighthouse that has been guiding ships to the sanctuary of La
> Coruna Bay since the Roman Empire.
>
> But sealing the badly damaged ship's fate, Spain refused to let a
> salvage team bring the Prestige into the bay or to tow it through
> Spanish waters to a port in Gibraltar. Portugal wouldn't allow the
> tanker within its territorial waters, either. Both countries dispatched
> navy warships to enforce their decisions, keeping the crippled Prestige
> in the roughest channels of the Atlantic Ocean.
>
> Battered by towering waves for more than 90 hours, the Prestige cracked
> in half Nov. 19. It sank almost 12,000 feet and left a destructive trail
> of at least three million gallons of Russian fuel oil.
>
> With hindsight, it's clear that Spain and Portugal made disastrous
> mistakes. If the Prestige had been taken to relatively calm waters close
> to land four days before it sank, its cargo might have been safely
> pumped into another vessel. The tanker might not have shattered and oil
> might not still be washing up on more than 400 miles of beach in the
> Spanish fishing region of Galicia, where the damage could run into the
> hundreds of millions of dollars.
>
> "Taking the boat out to sea increased the chance of disaster. But what
> were they going to do? Bring all that sludge here? That wouldn't have
> worked either," said Luisa Fernandez, a homemaker in La Coruna, as she
> took shelter from the rain in a pub near the city's stone seawall late
> last week. "Everything has been so badly done."
>
> The Prestige's legacy is a bitter debate among shippers, politicians,
> environmentalists and angry Spaniards, over what to do when a gravely
> damaged tanker seeks help near land. There are strong motives --
> economic, political and environmental -- for distrust on all sides.
>
> Politicians want to avoid a spill in their backyards at all costs.
> Salvage companies have years of experience dealing with damaged craft,
> but they also stand to make a big score if they can retrieve most of the
> oil. And even environmentalists debate the risks of a major spill close
> to sensitive coastlines as opposed to out in the deep ocean waters.
>
> The stakes are huge at a time when more oil and liquefied natural gas
> than ever is transported by sea to satisfy the world's growing demand
> for energy. Sunday, a tanker carrying 20,000 metric tons of liquefied
> petroleum gas caught fire in Chinese waters east of Hong Kong, risking a
> huge explosion, authorities said.
>
> The disaster has sparked calls across Europe to move up the phasing out
> of aging single-hull vessels, now expected to be banned by 2015. But
> even modern tankers -- with two layers of hull to help prevent oil
> spills -- can get into trouble in the international shipping lanes off
> the Coast of Death -- the name sailors have given the shipwreck-prone,
> jagged shores of northwestern Spain.
>
> That is where the Prestige stalled two weeks after it left St.
> Petersburg, Russia, where the 26-year-old tanker had been serving since
> July as a makeshift oil-storage facility. After topping off its tanks in
> Ventspils, Latvia, the Prestige, carrying fuel oil valued at $10
> million, set off for Singapore. It navigated the Baltic Sea and passed
> through the Denmark Straits before hitting the stormy Atlantic, where it
> turned south.
>
> The mayday flashed into a Spanish coast-guard station around noon on
> Nov. 13. Gale-force winds had whipped up 20-foot waves and the Prestige
> -- 27 miles out -- was listing at a 45-degree angle. Its steel hull had
> cracked and big chunks of its plating had already begun to fall off,
> something the salvagers would discover a few days later. It is still
> unclear whether the ship struck something in the water or simply began
> to succumb to old age and heavy seas. The ship's log hasn't been found.
>
> Choppers took off to evacuate the crew of frightened Filipino and
> Romanian sailors. In La Coruna, south of the Torre de Hercules
> lighthouse built by the Romans in the Second Century, the Spanish diving
> and salvage company Technosub International Inc. also moved fast,
> calling its partner in Rotterdam, SMIT Salvage NV. The message: Contact
> the tanker's owner and insurers and win the rescue contract. If the
> ship, and its cargo, could be saved, SMIT and Technosub could make
> millions of dollars.
>
> Twirling in the Wind
>
> Rescue helicopters lifted seven Prestige sailors to safety by 5:30 p.m.
> Another 17 were soon out of harm's way, winched up -- twirling in the
> wind as they were hoisted in harnesses dangling from the helicopter --
> wrapped in blankets and ferried to shore. One sailor was so thankful he
> gave a chopper pilot the stone amulet he had been carrying for good luck.
>
> The tanker's Greek captain, first officer and chief mechanic stayed on
> board. By the time the tugboat Ria de Vigo pulled up at 6:30 p.m., the
> Prestige was surrounded by a slick more than a mile across. Fighting to
> keep from being washed overboard, Ria de Vigo rescue workers tried to
> attach cables so the tanker could be brought under control, but most of
> the cables broke, snapped by the intense pressure of the waves.
>
> That evening, in Rotterdam, SMIT officials learned they had the salvage
> contract. Operators worked the phones, telling a five-member team to
> catch the next flight out from Amsterdam. The Prestige, its engines
> dead, continued to drift, coming within three miles of land.
>
> When villagers in Muxia on the Spanish coast awoke on Nov. 14, they saw
> the tanker on the horizon. "It was a horrifying scene. We went to bed
> thinking the boat was 22 miles offshore and there it was right off our
> beach. Everybody was terrified," said Ramon Perez Barrientos, the head
> of civil defense in the fishing village of 7,000.
>
> But the tugboats had succeeded in attaching tow lines to the tanker,
> stopping its drift eastward. The Prestige was stable enough to allow
> coast-guard technicians and an inspector from the harbor master's office
> in La Coruna to helicopter out for an assessment. They found the steel
> hull so severely damaged that the entire vessel was in jeopardy.
>
> That convinced Jose Luis Lopez Sors, the director general of Spain's
> merchant-marine service. He demanded the Prestige be towed at least 120
> miles into the Atlantic off the Spanish coast, and he dispatched the
> warship Cataluna to make sure his order was followed.
>
> 'More to It'
>
> Geert Koffeman, SMIT's deputy chief executive, was in London at a
> business meeting that morning when his cellphone rang. "Hey, listen,
> there is more to it than a vessel adrift," Mr. Koffeman recalled Richard
> van der Werf, a colleague at the head office in Rotterdam, telling him.
>
> Mr. Koffeman had left his office overlooking Rotterdam's Maas River a
> day earlier with just a briefcase. Now, learning that the ship was badly
> damaged and that oil was already leaking, he grabbed a folding
> toothbrush and a plastic razor and headed for Heathrow airport.
>
> By 7 p.m., at about the time Mr. Koffeman's Iberia Airlines flight from
> Barcelona touched down in La Coruna, the Prestige had been towed 25
> miles out. In its wake, it left an oil slick 20 miles long and 200 yards
> wide. France, Britain and the Netherlands sent antipollution equipment,
> including nearly five miles of floating barriers, to help Spain contain
> the mess.
>
> In the La Coruna airport terminal, Mr. Koffeman saw SMIT's chief salvage
> master, Wytse Huismans. Mr. Huismans and his team -- four others from
> SMIT and five experts from Technosub -- were waiting to board a
> search-and-rescue chopper that would ferry them to the Prestige so they
> could check firsthand on the damage. They would be winched down from the
> chopper, a heart-stopping operation in the best of conditions. The
> chopper's takeoff was delayed by bad weather; 12-foot-high waves crashed
> onto the seawall protecting La Coruna's city beach until midnight.
>
> At 2 a.m. Nov. 15, the salvage experts dropped onto the Prestige's deck.
> They called Mr. Koffeman, still awake at the hotel Ria Zor in La Coruna.
> The situation was dire, they said, and the only hope was to bring the
> Prestige into the relatively peaceful water of La Coruna Bay. There,
> they believed the tanker might be saved, and its cargo pumped into
> another vessel, both surrounded by protective booms to contain leaks. It
> was an operation SMIT had performed many times before.
>
> If the Prestige was forced farther out to sea, "I knew that the ship
> would break up," said Mr. Koffeman, a 35-year veteran of the maritime
> salvage business.
>
> He set up a meeting at 11 a.m. with Spanish officials, including Mr.
> Lopez Sors, the merchant-marine chief. He thought he would be able to
> change their minds and get the Prestige into the bay. "We know the
> Atlantic, we know the winter, we know tankers," he said.
>
> But the Spaniards were unyielding and angry. Mr. Koffeman said they
> wouldn't let him make the argument that a major oil spill might be
> avoided if they let SMIT bring the Prestige in. "They only wanted one
> thing; that we take the tanker far away," he said.
>
> Spanish officials said there was no way Mr. Koffeman could have
> persuaded them to accept the Prestige. Ten years before, the tanker
> Aegean Sea had broken up on the rocks beneath the Torre de Hercules
> lighthouse, spilling most of its 80,000 metric tons of crude oil onto La
> Coruna's beaches and harbor. It took Galicia's fishing industry, which
> provides 28,000 jobs for the region, one of the poorest in Europe, more
> than five years to recover from the disaster.
>
> The Prestige's spill posed even greater dangers to Galicia. The Prestige
> was carrying fuel oil, which is far more detrimental to the environment
> because of its high sulfur content. This fact hardened local officials
> in their determination to keep the ship out of the port. If the Prestige
> had ruptured in the bay, "it would have been the apocalypse," said
> Galicia's fishing minister, Enrique Lopez Veiga.
>
> The Spaniards also flatly rejected Mr. Koffeman's next request -- to let
> SMIT tow the Prestige to Gibraltar, 617 miles away -- because to get
> there, the Prestige would have to sail uncomfortably close to the
> Spanish coast. Mr. Koffeman had no more luck with Portugal, which
> declared its ports off limits, arguing that the badly leaking ship was
> sure to cause damage to its coastline. SMIT ultimately decided to head
> toward Cape Verde Islands off Senegal, 2,000 miles away, to an area of
> the Atlantic often so calm it's known as the Doldrums.
>
> But Mr. Koffeman held out little hope the Prestige would make it that
> far. He knew SMIT's chances of making money from the Prestige job would
> shrink with every mile the tanker moved out into the roiling Atlantic.
> Oil-tanker rescue jobs are taken on spec, and if a ship and cargo aren't
> salvaged, the owner and insurers only cover a salvage company's cost.
>
> That's why countries such as Spain are suspicious of salvagers'
> arguments. Despite pleas from salvage companies, most nations won't let
> leaking oil tankers close to land. In January 2001, Spain and five other
> countries famously refused to give haven to the tanker Castor, which had
> a 20-yard crack in its deck and 30,000 metric tons of unleaded gasoline
> in its hold. The Castor wandered the Mediterranean for more than five
> weeks, until it was unloaded in a ship-to-ship transfer in the open seas
> off Malta.
>
> 'For What?'
>
> Assailed afterward by the shipping industry for rebuffing the Castor,
> Mr. Lopez Sors was unrepentant. "The salvage company wants me to risk my
> coast and my people in a highly touristic area and for what? For their
> profits," he said in a television interview at the time.
>
> Spain and the Castor were lucky; the tanker survived and it didn't leak.
> With the Prestige, Spain hasn't been so fortunate. Criticism of its
> sending the tanker out to sea has been harsh. Peter Swift, managing
> director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners,
> said Spain made a political decision that ended up "putting a whole
> coastline at risk." Environmentalists complained that Spain and Portugal
> never made unloading the fuel oil a priority. "There was a window of
> opportunity that was lost," said Simon Carroll, Greenpeace's
> representative to the International Maritime Organization, a United
> Nations ship-safety body, "and it may have contributed to the breaking
> up of the vessel."
>
> Spain hasn't wavered in its defense of its decision, saying it avoided a
> potentially greater problem by ushering the ship out to sea. "There's no
> way that boat could have docked at a Spanish port," said an angry Jesus
> Andreu, a spokesman for Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. "It was leaking
> oil all over the place. What would have happened if it had broken in
> half at port? It would have been a disaster!"
>
> Spain's rejection sent the Prestige into nasty weather. At sunset on
> Nov. 15, the tanker's captain, still on board, radioed the coast guard:
> He and the remaining crew had to be evacuated, immediately. Buffeted by
> high winds, helicopters lowered harnesses onto the deck to retrieve the
> men. They were flown to the airport in La Coruna, where Spanish
> authorities greeted the captain, Apostolos Maguras, by arresting him on
> several charges, including causing damage to the environment.
>
> Before they locked him up in the La Coruna jail, where he remains on
> about $3 million bail, they said Capt. Maguras told them that he had
> left the ship's log -- a sacrosanct document detailing a ship's every
> move -- on the Prestige. Spanish officials didn't find it on board.
>
> Early on Nov. 16, wind drove the Prestige slick over the floating
> barriers laid out to keep it in check. Sticky oil washed up near La
> Coruna and oil-coated birds began to stagger onto shore. A chunk of the
> Prestige's deck plating, 40 yards tall and 10 yards wide, crashed into
> the sea. The salvage team decided they should turn the tanker around and
> tow it by the stern rather than the bow, so the severely damaged side
> wouldn't face the most forceful waves.
>
> Big Tug
>
> To do that, the team called in one of the world's strongest ocean-going
> tugboats, the De Da, owned by a salvage alliance to which SMIT belongs.
> It chugged over from Gibraltar and hooked up to the tanker.
>
> Then, shortly before midnight on Nov. 17, the Portuguese warship Joao
> Coutinho approached, signaling explicit orders to the tugboats: They
> were not to bring the Prestige within 200 miles of the Portuguese coast.
> "We did what we had to do to keep a problem for which we had no
> responsibility from coming to our shores," said Portuguese Defense
> Minister Paulo Portas, defending the order before Portugal's parliament.
>
> To comply, the flotilla had to change course and head due west, into
> rougher seas. The Prestige was battered by fierce waves for another 30
> hours. By 7:50 a.m. on Nov. 19, it began breaking apart.
>
> Tugboats cut the ultra-light towing wire that had been flown in from
> Rotterdam four days before. At 9:30 a.m., the tanker's two parts were at
> 45-degree angles. Fearful the fuel oil in the hold would pour out at any
> moment, Spanish Defense Minister Federico Trillo said the government
> considered sending F-18 fighter jets to bomb the tanker and set it on
> fire so the oil would be burned off, but the maneuver was deemed too risky.
>
> At 4:15 p.m., the Prestige sank, 133 miles west of Spain and Portugal,
> in an area rich in marine and bird life known as the Galicia Bank. Most
> of the cargo for now has gone down to the ocean floor, where the fuel
> oil probably solidified under intense pressure and in frigid temperatures.
>
> Late Sunday night, the condition of the submerged cargo wasn't known --
> although experts expect the tanks holding the oil to eventually rupture
> and for the oil to again rise to the surface in warmer weather. Atop the
> Atlantic, there were four main slicks that continued to move toward the
> Spanish coast.
>
> --
>
> The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

--
IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE SUCKER IN THE GAME, IT'S YOU

A man walks into a bar and is confronted by the sight of four men and a dog
playing poker.
The dog bets, and the men fold. The dog rakes in the pot.
"Wow!" whispers the spectator to one of the human players. "That's one smart
dog!"
"Not really" says the player.
"What do you mean? He won the pot, didn't he?"
"Yeah, well. Don't tell him, but whenever he's got a good hand he wags his
tail..."
----------------------
IAN WILLMORE
MEDIA CO-ORDINATOR

Telephone: 0207 566 1657 (w)
  07887 641 344 (mobile)
  0208 885 3779 (home)
Fax:  0207 490 0881
----------------------
Any personal opinions do not necessarily reflect the policy of Friends of the
Earth, particularly in so far as they concern politicians with whom we may have
to do business in future.



~~~~~~~
PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.



More information about the Marxism mailing list