The streets of Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage centre in north-western Spain, were thronged with marchers upset by the destruction wrought on the region’s environment and fisheries by a huge oil spill from the sunken tanker Prestige.
Organisers of the march, held under the slogan Never Again, estimated that up to 200,000 people marched through driving rain under a sea of umbrellas.
Demonstrator Juan Raimundez, his clothes smeared with fuel oil from cleaning up the spill, accused authorities of playing down the disaster.
“You can’t lie and take the situation so lightly. Those of us who’ve been to clean up have no doubt it’s a catastrophe.”
Seventy miles away on Galicia’s storm-driven Costa de la Muerte (Coast of Death) small patches of a huge oil slick released when the 26-year-old Prestige broke up and sank 12 day's ago in deep Atlantic waters began washing up on beaches.
“What is reaching the coast right now are small patches which have affected some beaches in the northern zone of Galicia,” Environment Minister Jaume Matas told Spanish radio.
The fishing village of Muxia on Spain’s north-western corner, which has repeatedly cleaned up only to be soaked again with thick, foul-smelling fuel oil had again been hit, he said.
A larger slick containing most of the estimated 11,000 tons of fuel oil spilled when the Prestige sank was now about 19 miles off the Spanish coast, slightly further away than Saturday, he said.
But stormy weather, with driving rain and shifting winds and currents, made it difficult to predict where the slick would end up, he said. “You have to be prepared for the worst. And that’s what we are doing,” Matas said.
The bad weather has hampered the work of a fleet of clean-up ships which have been sent by countries from around Europe. So far they have scooped up 5,400 tons of fuel oil.
In Santiago, marchers called for the resignation of the Spanish and Galician regional governments over their handling of the tanker disaster, the latest in a series to hit Galicia.
The slick close to Spain’s shores was bigger than the 5,000 tons of fuel oil spilled when the Prestige was holed off the Galician coast on November 13. It was towed out to sea for nearly a week before sinking.
The original spill caused untold damage to Galicia’s renowned fisheries, shellfish and barnacles, a culinary delicacy.
Some 400km of coastline were declared off-limits to fishing, putting thousands of people out of work.
“We are watching the sea and the weather and wondering if it is going to arrive. The whole village is waiting,” said 63-year-old seaman Salvador Ribera in the fishing village of Finisterre.