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Fresh oil slick hits Spanish coast

A volunteer scrapes oil from the Spanish coast

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MUXIA, Spain -- A slick of fuel oil from the sunken tanker Prestige has begun washing up on the northwest coastline of Spain.

Several towns and beaches along the Galician coast were hit on Sunday. In Muxia, a 10-inch thick coat of oil covered the beach and rocks.

"We're used to water crashing over the wall, but nothing like this," Maria Terrela, 58, told the Associated Press. "This is an absolute disaster."

Manuel Sambade, 45, who harvests goose barnacles -- a finger-like crustacean that Spaniards consider a delicacy -- said: "This summer, the beach was immaculate. It was full of tourists. Now it's garbage."

Pointing to the sea and beach, he added: "This is all we have. If we don't have it, what can we do?"

The wreck of the Prestige is thought to be more than 100 miles off the coast and more than two miles below the surface.

A French submarine is to be deployed Monday to determine how much oil the tanker is still leaking.

Between 15 and 25 percent of the cargo of about 20 million gallons of fuel oil is thought to have spilled.

Meanwhile, on the northwest Spanish shore ships and fishermen are battling to protect the beaches and fishing grounds.

At least seven oil recovery ships, which have skimmed 5,000 tonnes of oil from the sea in the last several days, are trying to vacuum up as much of the oil as possible. Another 2,400 tonnes have been collected from the beaches.

The ships are battling high waves and strong winds, which have pushed the slick toward the coast. The Spanish newspaper El Pais said the slick was 50 km (31 miles) long.

In a number of ports, worried fishermen were putting together their own barriers with nets and other tackle to reinforce floating containment barriers.

Some 400 km (250 miles) of coastline have been declared off-limits to fishing and shellfish gathering, putting thousands of people out of work.

Enrique Lopez Veiga, the top fisheries official in the regional Galician government, said: "Everything is really working against us: the winds, the currents, the course it is taking toward the coast."

The latest slick is far bigger than an initial oil spill produced when one of the Prestige's tanks was holed, for unknown reasons, in a violent storm on November 13.

The new slick appears destined to pollute many of the same beaches that teams have laboriously cleaned up.

The biggest fear is that it will strike rich shellfish grounds further south which have so far been spared.

The Galicia fishing region has been cleaning up its beaches and coastline since the initial spill of some 5,000 tonnes of oil fouled beaches with a foul-smelling bed of tar and killed or coated thousands of seabirds.

SEO, a bird conservancy group, estimates 10,000 birds have been killed or seriously injured by the slick

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