MEPs criticise Spanish government over Prestige disaster

MEPs have criticised Spain for its handling of the 2002 Prestige oil tanker disaster and urged the creation of an EU coastguard to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The EP temporary committee on Safety at Sea which investigated the Prestige oil tanker disaster reached its final conclusions on 5 April 2004. The committee's findings echo criticisms by ecologists and opposition parties of the government of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. The committee deplores the decision taken by the Spanish authorities to tow the vessel away from the Galician coast claiming that it made the problem worse.

One year after the disaster, the World Wide Fund warned in a critical report that the Prestige oil spill crisis was not over, with both the marine environment and the fishing sector on the north-western coast of Spain still suffering. According to WWF, "damage to fishing and related economic sectors, tourism, and the natural heritage along 3,000km of coastline polluted by the spill may last for over a decade and cost approximately 5 billion euro, with society at large paying 97.5 percent of it".

The EP committee on Safety at Sea backs the idea of setting up a European coastguard service to coordinate Member States' responses to such disasters. MEPs consider that an EU coastguard would help monitor strict adherence to shipping routes and aid coordination in the event of a disaster. Further recommendations by the committee include a call for more powers for the European Agency for Maritime Safety, improved working conditions and safety for seafarers and better protection of the Baltic waters, given that many Russian oil tankers do not meet EU safety standards. MEPs also propose equipping dangerous goods containers with electronic transponders, as these containers could then be easily found in a sunken vessel.



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