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Jailing of Captain in Oil Spill Is Upheld

January 05, 2003|From Times Wire Services

PARIS — As oil from the sunken tanker Prestige continued to blotch French beaches Saturday, a Spanish court upheld an order jailing the ship's captain.

Seven weeks after the tanker snapped in half off northwestern Spain, the worst slicks have started heading toward France, and a fleet of trawlers and fishing boats battled stormy seas Saturday to help cleanup efforts.

French television showed masked emergency workers scooping viscous fuel oil clumps, some as wide as 18 inches, into buckets, while bystanders -- barred from the beaches to avoid contamination -- fumed.

"The people who did this should have this stuff rubbed into their faces," a local man raged.

"It's horrible to see this," a woman said. "There's more than there was yesterday, and there will be even more tomorrow."

Col. Patrick Toufflet, a cleanup commander in the Landes region, south of Bordeaux, which mobilized about 100 workers, including soldiers and firefighters, said the clumps were growing. "It's no longer little balls but plates" of oil, he said.

An additional 200 soldiers would arrive Monday to speed the cleanup, Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin told French television.

France has taken over from Spain in coordinating the cleanup, as aerial photography showed about 15 medium-sized slicks lurking within 50 miles of the French coast, maritime officials said.

Hotel owners fretted about the effect of the oil-smeared beaches on tourism, a major source of income for the region.

"This is worse than the Erika spill," hotel owner Evelyne Baron told the daily Le Parisien, referring to the disastrous spill from the tanker Erika, which sank off Brittany in 1999. "The Erika spilled all its oil in one go, whereas with the Prestige we really don't know what will happen."

The Prestige, a 26-year-old single-hulled vessel that was carrying 77,000 tons of oil, sprang a leak in November, snapped in two and sank six days later. Most of its oil went down with it and has since been seeping steadily from the wreck, two miles under the sea, at a rate that could keep it hazardous for many months.

France, which has campaigned forcefully for stricter European Union safety rules on oil tankers, this week launched a criminal inquiry into responsibility for the spill.

In Spain, the provincial court of A Coruna, a town on the Galician coast, on Saturday rejected an appeal of the jailing of the Prestige's Greek captain, Apostolous Mangouras, saying there was "solid and conclusive" evidence that he disobeyed Spanish authorities in refusing to have the tanker towed away from the coast.

The court also urged investigations into whether government decisions during the crisis made matters worse.

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