|A Black Wave Too Far
Skinner on The Prestige Oil Tanker Disaster
MAFIA BEHIND OIL TIME BOMB.
Weeks went by before anyone from the Government dared to venture
to Galicia to see for him or herself exactly what had been going
on. By the time some did turn up it was too late.
On the 13th of November 2002, 5 miles off the northern coast of
Galicia, Spain, a rusty old tanker called the Prestige carrying
70000 tons of oil leftovers, sprang a leak in one of its tanks. For
several days, whilst a plethora of gurus of all walks of life pondered
on what to do with it, the doomed vessel was taken for a ride around
the north Atlantic. The inevitable happened. She broke in two and sank.
From that moment on the worst environmental catastrophe in history affecting
the planets oceans was about to unfold. This is the story of a
tragicomedy. It is a story involving crooks, politicians, scientists,
lawyers, wheeler-dealers and many other international so-called associated
professionals. The ensuing plot delves deep into the aftermath of the
sinking, its effects, the eventual economical disaster, but above all
it exposes the weakness and strengths of human nature. Rising to the
crest of this black wave is the real heroes. The men and women of Galicia,
who depend on the sea for their livelihood, took the matter into their
own hands. They fought back.
Captain, theres a crack in a tank! shouted Pablo,
the Filipino deck hand as he entered the bridge. The ship was in heavy
gale force seas only a few miles off the coast. She was
struggling south towards the Mediterranean with a belly full crummy
oil. Shit, shouted Stradislakus, the Greek captain. Reduce
engines, he bellowed at his engineer, the only other professional
on board. The rest of the crew began to panic. They literally hadnt
a clue what to do. Stradi scratched his head, uttered further obscenities
and after a short pause, sent off the dramatic Mayday signal.
He waited. The nearest coast guard station soon picked up his call,
and as helicopters and Red Cross volunteers were sent to the rescue,
a message arrived at headquarters. It read: Oil tanker in peril.
Carrying 70000 tons of crude. The word soon spread around the
world. It didnt take long for the contents to literally sink in.
What to do was another matter!
Chema, we have a problem, said the Minister. Theres
a tanker leaking oil off the coast of Galicia and the bloody Gallegos
wont let us tow it to port. Besides, he went on, Im
not sure we have the means to tow the bastard anyway. The President
took a deep breath and replied, round up some experts and sort
it out. Meanwhile Ill find out whos responsible for this!
Theyre going to pay.
What about the opposition? Whatll I tell them.
Bugger them. Theyll only blame us as they usually do,
he retorted. It was not long before the captain received a bloodcurdling
radiogram, which read, Start up your engines and head north, away
from the coast. The message also reached Britain and France.
Tony, theres a Spanish, at least I think its Spanish
oil tanker somewhere off the Iberian coast thats in trouble,
said Jack as he entered the PMs office. Trouble is, theyve
ordered it to head up this way. You know what the Cornish fishermen
would do if they found out, he added. Yes, I know, I know,
he growled back. That damned Loyola has been accusing us in Brussels
and somehow brought Gibraltar into it. What the hell the Rock has to
do with this stupidity I dont know. Send a note back
that not on your Nelly will we allow the ship to enter our waters. Its
not our problem.
Jack walked out of number 10 scratching his head. Back at his desk and
with a grin on his face as he picked up the phone. Get me the
Pedro was looking out to sea. He couldnt believe his eyes. Not
far from his beloved fishing ground he could see a strange but ominous
discolouring of the seas surface. The telltale rainbow colours
were breaking through the surface of an otherwise pale blue ocean. Although
the waves were menacingly huge, he took to his small fishing boat and
set off towards the area. As he reached it to check it out, the nauseating
but familiar smell began to enter his nostrils. Oil, bloody oil!
he thought. He turned back, docked and headed straight for his local.
Theres oil out there! he shouted out at his fellow
fishing companions seated around several of the tables. Coruña,
God damn it, is being hit. Again! he sobbed as he reached for
his wine. Roberto, a tough old sea lion whod seen it all before
didnt bat an eyelid. He stood up walked to the bar and paid his
bill. We have to muster up the Cofradias and get moving
soon, he said. But what about the government? asked
Pedro. Leave it to them and theyll screw it up. We have
the fight of our lives on our hands. Ill let you all know soon
enough, he said as he walked out of the bar.
The room was full of smoke, cigar smoke. Seated round the conference
table were two shipping magnates of unknown origin, three lawyers, two
insurance experts and a handful of non-entities all carrying clip boards
and portable PCs. OK you guys, whats happened?
a voice flashed across the table. Will somebody give me a brief
on the Prestige! Mostovich stood up and walked about
as silence continued to fill the room. Come on ladies and gentlemen.
The facts, guys, what are the facts? He looked at a cringing individual
seated at the far end and continued, shes busted her side,
shes still afloat, why the hell wont they let her dock?
Can someone tell me why the crummy politicians dont realise that
Im losing money by the bucketful if I dont get my oil ashore?
He turned and faced another pale individual. What about insurance,
has anyone worked out our insurance coverage? Eh? A young female
lawyer, in her mid-thirties came forward eventually and broke the ice.
Sir, the world is screaming for blood because of the spill, and...
Mostovich broke in and started laughing. Looking at her colleagues he
said Oil spill? What oil spill? Thats not my problem.
He thumped the table. Sort it out. Thats what I've got you
guys for, right? Silence in the boardroom reigned once again.
Over the next few days, as the tanker was moved about like an international
pawn on a floating chessboard, the media started having a field day.
Television stations began competing for prime spots with incredible
news and film coverage. Thanks to the chat shows, the world had never
realised how many experts on oil spillage there were until this ship
decided to test the waters with its liquid cargo. The papers
on the other hand were great. Some of the headlines were heartbreaking.
TANKER ADRIFT AND SPEWING BLACK GOLD.
EUROPEAN UNION AT LOGGERHEADS WITH SPAIN OVER TANKER.
RUSSIAN MAFIA BEHIND OIL TIME BOMB.
FISHERMEN PENILESS YET AGAIN?
Journalists and photographers
alike were in their element. How about this boss? An old lady
holding up a black seagull? Or this one with the little boy on the beach
making black sandcastles? Huh? These were typical statements floating
through the pressrooms as the morning editions were being assembled.
Then, one morning,
almost a week after the damage, the ship sank. The many authorities
involved in the initial decision making had decided to let it break
up and sink. Hopefully it would settle deep enough down on the ocean
bed to solve the problem. Little did they realise that the drama had
They took to the beaches and to the sea
We have the matter in hand. The ship is resting in deep water
and the experts advise us that its cargo of fuel-oil, due to the
cooling effect of the ocean will soon solidify and cease to cause damage.
The Vice-president of Spain a few days after the Prestige
broke in two and sank made this infamous statement. He would live to
Meanwhile, Roberto was in the process of rounding up sufficient fishermen
from the north of Galicia to begin planning the massive cleanup job
that lay ahead. The present situation regarding the wreck, its whereabouts
and fate were not of his immediate concern. Although he was partially
correct deciding to organise the Cofradias* into action,
little did he realise that small leaks of oily treacle were beginning
to surface above the wreck. The tanker had turned into a sort of gigantic
aerosol can full of black goo with the sea acting as its user,
constantly spraying the surface above! Roberto was not alone in his
Herman stood outside his home stretching his weary limbs before preparing
his usual breakfast of handouts from the village housewives. Nobody
knew neither how old nor how long hed been living in his little
cave above the cliffs. Due to his fair complexion, long blond and greying
hair everyone knew him as the German. For ages hed
managed to capture the hearts of the locals. TVG, the regional television
station had even interviewed him on two occasions. Despite his hermit
lifestyle as well as avoiding the taxman, hed steadily built single-handedly
a unique art novae rock museum. His objects were designed and constructed
with whatever the sea managed to wash up. Drift wood, plastic canisters,
broken fishing nets were all assembled and set together with a multitude
of shapes and sizes of rocks hed managed to collect over the years.
He was a legend. Well loved by his Galician hosts he was still a loner
yet content to accept the respect as well as subsistence received in
exchange for a view of his art. A happy soul, that is until the sea
handed him a new contribution to his portfolio. In fact the cruel sea
plastered it all over his lifelong objects. He just wasnt able
to take it. With tears in his eyes, he looked at the sky, kneeled on
his rock bed and passed away. He was buried at the local cemetery the
following day. Galicia mourned yet again!
Ive heard about the danger to our beaches and the little
response from the government. What are you going to do about it?
asked Maruxa, Robertos wife. Weve arranged an emergency
meeting down at the local with all the heads. Were
going to need every able-bodied seamen plus materials to clean the shit
off the rocks and beaches as fast as we can. Theres no other way.
He paused. There isnt a goddam bastard outside Galicia that
has moved an inch to help. He continued in the meantime,
I need you to contact the marisqueadoras** and sort out
supplies. Food, drink and any other stuff you can think of. The lads
dont only need moral support. They also need calories! Maruxa
began thinking, water, bread, ham, pots and pans for the stew,
kitchens. She turned and looked at Roberto and said what
about money? Roberto stretched out his hands, palms up this
is the money, our money! This is all we need and walked out of
Condeleeza, prim and proper as usual and always lean as a cat as she
addressed her boss with news, knew that George had only one thought
on his mind. Come hell or high water he was out to make Sadam eat sand,
grain by grain or hang by the highest lamppost in Times Square. Hed
promised dad he would! Ive had a call from Sr. Zapateiro
regarding the oil spill off Spain. Hes asking for advice,
she said as she faced him. Zapata? Are you sure? Isnt he
some Chicano bandit? No, no sir. Hes the
socialist opposition leader in Spain. Hed like to know how we
handled the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez back in the eighties. Remember?
Thats all, she concluded. The President thought for a moment.
Thats OK. The world should know were the good guys
always ready to help. Give him all weve got. He paused and
added, by the way, how much did that goddam wreck cost us?
he paused again. Dont forget that Condy, just dont
forget to charge them.
The Spanish authorities did finally react. Once theyd realised
that they had a real problem on their hands, the various ministries
responsible for different sectors of the catastrophe became involved.
Environmental associations, universities, scientific laboratories and
other expert organisations were summoned by the government to produce
their respective reports aimed at two fundamental questions: What
happened and what to do about it. The armed forces were called
to assist with the activities of cleaning up the beaches and the rocky
shore. A task that was already underway by the thousands of volunteers
both from the Galician fishermens Cofradias and the
rest of the citizens of Spain as well as Europe sympathetic with the
locals. The government had also helped in equipping these make shift
armies with the necessary tools and clothes to carry out the work. Yet
they failed on the most important issue of all in any democratic society.
Not one member of the ruling body turned up as soon as the alarm bells
had been rung. Weeks went by before anyone dared to venture to Galicia
to see for him or herself exactly what had been going on. By the time
some did turn up it was too late. Their image as an able bodied government
had been tarnished. Galicia was too hurt and beyond repairs both physically
Meanwhile back at the beaches and out at sea, the sights were impressive.
It was like Dunkirk all over again. Every conceivable floating craft,
large, small, fat, slim, old was out with men in white overalls and
gloves, literally scooping the crap off the surface and into the awaiting
buckets on board. Thousands of others were on the beaches; similarly
clad scratching and scooping blob after blob of the oily smelly muck
off the sand. A human chain carried the buckets to the trucks that would
eventually transport the tons of oil to where it truly belonged, far
away from the ocean. Day in and day out, weekends included, the men
and women fought for the survival of the sea, their sea. The politicians
persisted in their rhetoric and cross-accusations. Journalists from
all sectors of the media plodded on with their coverage of the disaster.
Yet the Prestige continued to belch and spit out its bile
as if suffering from a never-ending hangover. The last word in Galicia
on everyones lips to this very day is ominous: Is this the
beginning of the end?
What do you think?
*Cofradías: Fishermens associations.
**Marisqueadoras: Seafood collectors.
© James Skinner
Read Serene Maiden - James Skinner's novel which covers the sinking of the Prestige
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