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Oil leak slows from tanker off Spanish coast

Thursday, January 9, 2003

The Associated Press

MADRID, Spain -- With the help of frigid waters, the crew aboard a high-tech submarine has slowed the hemorrhage in the sunken oil tanker Prestige, scientists said Wednesday.

The tanker is leaking about 21,000 gallons a day, about a third less than a month ago, when the loss was 33,000 gallons a day.

"The flow is significantly slower," said Emilio Lora-Tamayo, a physicist involved in efforts to contain what is shaping up as Spain's worst environmental disaster.

Lora-Tamayo attributed the slowdown in part to the near freezing temperature of the water, which makes oil thicker.

He also credited the crew of the French research submarine Nautile, who have managed to seal six of the 20 cracks or holes detected in the ship's two halves and plugged two other openings partially.

The submarine crew is sealing holes with metal plates and other types of makeshift seals depending on the shape and location of the hole.

The tanker broke apart and sank in the Atlantic six days after the hull ruptured in a storm off the coast of northwest Spain on Nov. 13.

The ship sunk some 2 miles below the surface.

Altogether it has spilled an estimated 6.7 million gallons of fuel oil, said Lora-Tamayo, chairman of a commission created to advise the Spanish government on the disaster.

The ship still has about 14 million gallons in its holds, he said. Lora-Tamayo said his panel is drawing up a report on what to do with the oil still inside the Prestige.

Oil from the Prestige has blackened hundreds of miles of pristine Spanish coastline, shutting down fishing and seafood industries and forcing thousands of Spaniards to live off government handouts.

The oil reached France's oyster-rich southwest coast last week and has also affected Portugal.

In Paris, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans to send an additional 200 soldiers and civil defense workers to blighted Atlantic coast beaches by Thursday night, doubling the number already present.

Sarkoszy also said France would develop an 800-member rapid reaction force to deal with future disasters. The force, to include 400 soldiers, is to be capable of mobilizing for such environmental disasters in less than 12 hours.


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