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Court Rules on Spain's Worst Environmental Disaster

The three men on trial in Spain for the country’s worst environmental disaster have today been acquitted by a Spanish court. The three accused men, Apostolos Mangouras, the tankers chief engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and Jose Luis Lopez-Sors, the serving head of the Spanish Merchant Navy at the time of the incident, were all facing up to 12 years imprisonement but were found not guilty of any criminal responsibility in the sinking.

Around 50,000 tonnes of crude oil were released into the Atlantic Ocean in an area known as one of the world’s most abundant fishing grounds. The Prestige, battered by strong storms and rough seas began to fill with water around 50 miles from the coastline.

Mangouras criticised the Spanish authorities for the oil spill and said that ordering the tanker back out to sea after its initial distress call “was the worst alternative. They sent us in a floating drown.” Mangouras claimed that this was the primary reason for the ship breaking apart in the storm and spilling the oil into the sea.

The Spanish response to the spill was also heavily criticised by the French government at the time. French authorities believed that had the stricken vessel been towed to port rather than left to drift in the stormy seas, then efforts at spill containment would have proved far more effective and prevented a large scale ecological disaster.

The then Head of the Spanish Merchant Navy, Lopez-Sors, had ordered the tanker away from the coastline believing that this would minimise the impact of the oil spill on the environment. However, the lawyer representing Mare Shipping, the owners of the Prestige vessel, explained to the trial that this order was “suicidal” and “worsened the structural damage” to the tanker. Had an effective and well drilled spill response procedure been implemented upon the first distress call by towing the ship back to port, then the incident could have been mostly avoided, with local fishing communities, wildlife and marine environments probably only suffering minimal damage.

The incident blackened over 1,000 miles of coastline encompassing three countries with damages estimated at £3.6 billion. One other co-defendant, Ireneo Maloto of the Philippines, remains on the run.



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