Thursday, December 05, 2002

The news from the Galicia oil spell is bad. Spilled fuel has reached the middle Galician coast in quantity between Corrubedo on the south and Cedeiro to the north. Fishing and shellfish gathering are banned in that area, which includes the major ports of La Coruña and El Ferrol. There are several different smaller pools of fuel moving into the three Rías Baixas, the three southernmost fjordlike inlets in Galicia closest to the Portuguese frontier. This is said to be the richest area in either Europe or the world for shellfish gathering. Other pools are making their way north of Galicia into the Bay of Biscay; fuel in amounts so far insignificant is washing up on the shores of Asturias and Cantabria, but it's moving toward the Basque Country and France. There are five suction boats working to prevent the fuel from moving north and six trying to keep it out of the Rías Baixas. One new Italian suction boat arrived yesterday and another is arriving today. Thousands of recipients and containers of various sizes have been set up at the Galician ports to hold the fuel being brought out by the suction boats, who are working heroically. Thousands of volunteers, cleaning fuel up with shovels and buckets, are already working, and more thousands are expected to arrive this weekend. There may be so many that they get in the way. If you're thinking of traveling to Galicia to help, you might help more if you stayed home. If you want to do something ecological, clean up a vacant lot in your neighborhood and plant some flowers or something there.

Meanwhile, estimates of the amount of fuel leaked range from an almost certainly too low government figure of under 11,000 tons, while the wildest high estimate is 55,000 tons. The Portuguese are claiming that more fuel is leaking from the sunken wreck of the ship, which the Spanish deny; they claim that the bathyscape inspections that a French ship and crew made prove that no fuel is leaking out.

Remember, this situation is not the Spaniards' fault. The boat was perfectly legally passing by the Spanish coast on the way from one place to another, neither of which is in Spain. It just happened to get in trouble near Spain. Now, you can argue that the Spanish government should have reacted more quickly and done more earlier, but you can't blame them for the situation's having happened in the first place. This situation is a farily serious political blow to the conservative PP governments in power in both Madrid and in the Galicia autonomous region. Most Spaniards think they've bungled the job so far, and Prime Minister Aznar hasn't visited the affected area yet. Remei said cynically, "He's supposed to pay attention to his constituents. Well, he stayed at the NATO meeting instead of going to Galicia. That's because he wants to be President of the European Union next. All those government leaders and foreign ministers were there, and they're the people he wants votes from now. They're his new constituents."

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