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Black tide hastens shellfish harvest

Published Sep. 4, 2005

Waves of black sludge from a major oil spill washed ashore amid high winds and driving rain Thursday, tarring new stretches of northwest Spain's scenic coastline and further threatening the region's multimillion-dollar fishing industry.

The regional government extended a ban on fishing and shellfish harvesting declared Saturday, when oil from the tanker Prestige first reached land.

The widest ban now covers more than 186 miles of the Galician coastline from Ferrol south to Ribeiro.

About 2.7-million gallons or more of fuel oil leaked from the Bahamas-flagged tanker in several spills starting Nov. 13, when its hull cracked in a storm.

The ship broke in half and sank Tuesday about 150 miles off Cape Finisterre, carrying most of its 20-million-gallon cargo to the ocean floor.

On Thursday, fishermen harvested mussels, oysters and other shellfish ahead of schedule from estuary beds that risked contamination. Authorities deployed more oil-blocking barriers at ports and rivers open to the ocean. Soldiers, environmentalists and volunteers shoveled oil from beaches.

Spain's environmental minister estimated economic damages and cleanup costs at $42-million so far.

Fishing and canning is a major industry here, generating about $330-million a year.

"We're afraid the black tide will come here," said Maria Busto, 47, one of about 600 workers standing knee-deep in the Noia estuary below Cabo Finisterre, raking cockles and clams into pails.

The miles of oil barriers deployed in recent days were ineffective against rough Atlantic seas, and the government lacks other resources _ such as oil-skimming ships _ to control the spill. Neighboring countries were sending cleanup vessels.

Although high winds and 26-foot waves dispersed some floating oil in recent days, four slicks detected offshore were heading toward land. Residents fear more of the same in coming days, but there is little they can do to stop it.

"We're profoundly uneasy," said Celestino Fermoso, the mayor of Muros.