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ENVIRONMENT

Oil spill disaster hearings draw to close

Hearings in the trial over one of Europe's worst oil spills in Spain wrapped up on Wednesday after eight months of testimony.

Oil spill disaster hearings draw to close
"Environment Brigades" clean up the coast of Galicia near Vilano Cape one year after the Prestige" oil spill disaster. Photo: Miguel Riopa

The Prestige oil tanker spilled 50,000 tonnes of oil into the sea when it capsized in the Atlantic in 2002, choking the coasts of Spain, Portugal and France with thick black oil.

Plaintiffs have called for sentences of up 12 years' jail for the Greek captain, Apostolos Mangouras, 78, his Greek chief engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and the head of the Spanish merchant navy at the time, Jose Luis Lopez Sors.

After hearing from scores of experts and witnesses, the court in the northwestern city of La Coruña adjourned the trial until the verdict, which officials said was not due for at least two months.

The prosecution has also demanded more than €4 billion ($5.0 billion) in damages overall.

Mangouras blamed the spill on the Spanish authorities which ordered the ship out to sea after it sent out a distress call due to a crack in its hull.

The Bahama-flagged Liberian tanker was carrying 77,000 tonnes of fuel when it sent the call on November 13th, 2002.

Mangouras, along with lawyers representing the shipping company that ran the Prestige, said the order caused it to break up in a storm and spill its load over six days adrift.

"The ship was cracked and they sent it out to the ocean," Mangouras told the court in November. "It was the worst alternative. They sent us in a floating coffin… to drown."

Lopez Sors said he had ordered the ship away from shore to lessen the environmental damage from the spill.

The decision did not spare 1,700 kilometres (1,050 miles) of coastline, which were blanketed with black slime, prompting 300,000 volunteers to come out to clean the beaches.

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ENVIRONMENT

Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.

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