Spaniards along the north west Galicia coastline are today steeling themselves for the “black tide” they’ve dreaded since a fuel oil tanker broke apart and sank more than a week ago.
“It’s a disaster. Just a disaster,” fisherman Jose Ramon Montero, 26, said at Cabo Finisterre (Cape Land’s End) lighthouse, staring at the Atlantic Ocean.
Residents gathered there at first light yesterday to glimpse the shiny black stain being carried wave by wave toward land despite the efforts of oil-skimming ships and floating barriers.
By late afternoon, drifting oil masses that apparently separated from a larger slick were just offshore Cabo Tourinan and points south several dozen miles past Land’s End to some of the river estuaries famed as fishing grounds and shellfish beds.
As darkness approached, it was unclear when or where precisely the goopy smears would strike, and what ecological and economic damage that would cause.
Previous slicks from the Bahamas-flagged Prestige, which ruptured on November 13 near Cape Land’s End in a storm, prompted the government to ban fishing and shellfish harvesting – the region’s staple industry – along a 310-mile stretch of coast.
Officials estimated the Prestige spilled 6,000 tons when its hull cracked, and at least as much again while it limped around offshore seeking permission to enter a Spanish port to offload – always denied – before finally splitting in two and sinking on November 19.
Environmentalists claim the tanker actually leaked some 20,000 tons. It’s the bulk of that which now threatens Galicia.