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EU urges aged tanker ban in days

The fishing industry and wildlife were devastated by the oil spill
The fishing industry and wildlife were devastated by the oil spill

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As a submarine prepares to investigate a new oil slick off the coast of Spain, protesters are outraged at the goverment's handling of the environmental disaster. CNN's Marina Kolbe reports (December 2)
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Europe has proposed a fast-track ban on ageing tankers like the Prestige which broke apart at sea two weeks ago, devastating Spain's Galician coast.

The European Commission in Brussels said single-hulled tankers like the Prestige should be prohibited from ferrying toxic heavy fuel oil, calling the need so urgent that it should bypass the normal bureaucracy and be taken up by heads of state and government at a summit in Copenhagen next week.

EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, who is Spanish, said late on Tuesday the current disaster on Spain's northwest coast of Galicia underscored the need to more rapidly phase out risky tankers.

Meanwhile the crew on board a submarine that dived to the site sunken Prestige said it has not found any new indications of leaking oil on the surface above the wreck site.

The eight-metre-long (26-foot) French submarine Nautile submerged more than two miles (3.5 km) below the surface to answer the question of whether the Prestige was still leaking oil from its 77,000-tonne (20 million gallons) cargo.

The submarine inspected the bow section of the ship, which broke in two pieces, on Monday but has not yet located the stern, which is thought to be some distance away from the bow.

The Spanish government hired Nautile to try to settle the dispute between Spanish and Portuguese authorities of whether oil is escaping from the wreck site.

Spanish officials insist the tanker is not leaking any of its cargo but Portuguese authorities, also closely monitoring the spill, have said repeatedly there are indications of spills coming from the sunken vessel.

The biggest immediate threat to Spain's already-oil stained northwestern coast is a second huge slick that spilled when the Prestige broke in two on November 19 and sank 130 miles off the coast.

Portions of that slick have already reached the gateway to the Arousa Inlet, prime breeding grounds for mussels and other shellfish, according to a reporter on the scene for CNN+, CNN's partner station in Spain.

The Arousa Inlet has so far escaped pollution that has affected 340 miles of northwestern coastline from the oil slicks that began three weeks ago when the tanker Prestige cracked its single hull on November 13.

Dozens of fishing boats were trying to hold back the black tide using improvised clean-up equipment that looked like large tennis rackets which were dipped into the sea to skim off the floating toxic sludge, the CNN+ reporter, Miriam Lorenzo, said.

These efforts complimented eight professional clean-up ships from France, Holland and other European nations that have "vacuumed" up 7,000 tonnes of oil along the coast.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, responding to fierce criticism that his conservative government has reacted slowly to the spills, said at a news conference on Monday: "We are not lacking in resources. There is no country in the world which can predict a disaster of this size and be prepared."

The government has said the slick could include up to 9,000 tonnes of oil, but environmentalists estimate it could be far larger.

-- CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report



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