A sinking tanker with 70,000 tons on oil on board was drifting in Atlantic storms today, threatening Spain’s Coast of Death with an ecological disaster.
A five mile long slick had leaked out of the tanker Prestige, which was listing sharply and in danger of splitting in two in the ocean about 30 miles west of the Galicia region.
Helicopter teams rescued 24 of the 27 crew members but tug boat crews, who had battled through 20 ft waves and 50 knot winds all night, had failed to tow the 44,000 ton tanker further out to sea. The captain and two others remained on board.
The Bahamian registered Prestige had been heading for Gibraltar with fuel oil it had loaded in Latvia.
Maritime officials in Spain’s north-western port of Finisterre said the ship was in danger of sinking.
The first seven crewmen rescued, all Filipinos, said they had felt a bump and thought the ship hit something that caused it to take on water.
The tanker was listing heavily, and a fire broke out in the engine room.
The Galician coast is known as the Coast of Death because of frequent storms and shipwrecks there.
Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio contacted the governments of the Bahamas, Latvia and Britain to clarify responsibilities in the case.
Greenpeace official Mario Rodriguez accused oil companies of using “obsolete” vessels and of registering them in countries that do not have adequate environmental and security controls.
A Greek tanker ran aground in the same region a decade ago and more than 70,000 tons of oil leaked into the sea, contaminating 125 miles of coastline.