Ten Years on – The Prestige

Ten years after the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker off Spain, four men, including the ship’s captain, went on trial this week over the disaster, which caused the worst oil slick in the country’s history.

The first day of the trial, held at an exhibition centre in the northern city of La Coruna, is expected to be dominated by procedural questions, with the accused only expected to take the stand in November.

Apostolos Mangouras, 78, the Prestige’s Greek captain, is charged alongside two other officers and a Spanish official over the oil spill, which polluted thousands of kilometres of beach in Spain, Portugal and France.

Prosecutors are demanding 12 years’ jail for Mangouras, who is charged with harming the environment along with Greek chief engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and first mate Irineo Maloto, a Filipino who has not been apprehended.

The fourth defendant is Jose Luis Lopez-Sors, head of the Spanish merchant navy at the time, who ordered the ship out to sea when it was losing fuel.

But environmental groups complain that key people responsible for the disaster were not being tried and warned that the lessons from the disaster had not been learnt.

“There are many people who should be in the dock as well who are not there,” said the coordinator of Greenpeace Spain campaigns, Maria Jose Caballero.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the accident, is among those who should be held accountable for his government’s handling of the accident, she added.

Spanish non-government group Environmentalists in Action meanwhile said charges should be brought against ABS, the marine classification company that certified the Prestige as seaworthy.

The group complained that such single-hull tankers are still being used to transport petrol.

Mangouras attended the opening session of the trail along with Argyropoulos and Lopez-Sors.

The total cost of the environmental damage wrought by the oil slick has been calculated at more than four billion euros ($A5.09 billion), most of it for the Spanish state.

The Prestige leaked 50,000 tonnes of fuel into the Atlantic after it sank off northern Spain. It took on water in a storm on November 13, 2002, and drifted for six days before breaking up and sinking.

Over the weeks that followed, the vast oil slick engulfed thousands of kilometres of coastline, prompting 300,000 volunteers from around Europe to come and clean it up.

A study published by Spanish researchers in 2010 said fishermen that participated in the clean-up suffered genetic and lung problems.

After three days of procedural matters this week, the defendants are due to make their first appearance in the trial on November 13, the 10th anniversary of the disaster.

The trial is due to last until May 2013 and will hear testimony from 133 witnesses and 100 experts, the court said.