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Spain sends submarine to see if tanker is leaking oil

La Coruna (Spain), Nov. 22 (Reuters): Spain said today it had sent a submarine to the site of the sunken tanker Prestige to find out if the ship was still spewing oil into Atlantic waters, already polluted by thousands of tonnes of fuel oil.

Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced the measure while outlining a recovery plan for a disaster which has blackened the scenic coastline of the Galicia region, coating birds with tar and putting thousands of fishermen out of work.

The government says 10,000 to 11,000 tonnes of the viscous toxin spewed out before the storm-damaged Prestige broke in half and sank on Tuesday some 130 nautical miles off the coast where the ocean is some 3.6 km deep.

Greenpeace estimates 20,000 tonnes seeped out from the tanker, which was carrying 77,000 tonnes of fuel oil — twice the amount that spilled when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989 to create what has been stamped in the world’s mind as the worse ever oil spill.

A wave of oil slicks continued to menace Spain and Portugal and France said today that maritime pollution units had been put on alert and volunteers mobilised amid fears that strong winds would blow oil to its southern coast.

Rajoy said experts have told the government the oil inside the ship would solidify in the frigid ocean depths but that the French submarine would take a close up look just in case.

Other experts have said oil tanks within the shattered hull could have ruptured upon impact or that they eventually will rust through and release their contents into the ocean.

“There are many opinions with different criteria but the government has to listen to the experts,” Rajoy said.

As well as the submarine, a fleet of tugs, clean-up vessels and helicopters have patrolled the area, and Spain has employed more than 500 workers to scrape oil off nearly 400 km of coastline.

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