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2003-01-31 17:24:30

'Prestige' Probe Moves Forward

Tragic destruction to environment could have been prevented.

If decisive action had been taken, The Bahamas Maritime Authority says the Nov. 13 Prestige tanker disaster could have been prevented.

"It is now quite clear that, if decisive action had been taken at an early stage to move the ship to a more sheltered location, the ship and its cargo would almost certainly have been saved and any pollution would have been minimal," said the BMA Wednesday.

The tanker sank off the coast of Spain after it suffered structural damage and began taking on water on Nov. 13.

Severe weather hit the ship and its master, who remains in jail, sent out several mayday signals which were responded to by Spanish Marine Rescue teams.

The BMA's statement comes as it is being hampered in its investigation by slow responses by Spain to requests for information and by the ship's master being in jail.

The BMA says saving the ship could not have been done with a crew of seven and three officers who remained on board after the rest had left the vessel. It said the master and the two officers were extremely brave in the circumstances but their efforts alone could not save the ship.

The BMA said that after "shore authorities" ordered the ship out to sea and failed to make provisions for it, it was inevitable it would receive further damage.

"With the wreck lying in 3,000 metres of water and the sections that were the source of the initial hull failure being scattered over many square feet of the ocean floor, finding the causes of the incident involves a great deal of investigative work."

While it is too early to determine a cause, the BMA said, initial evidence indicates the Prestige was a well-maintained, -surveyed and -repaired ship. However, the BMA will explore all possible improvements to current industry practices that will help to anticipate and deal with problems that may rise in the future.

The authority said it is searching for the initial failure, and is looking at possible weakening in the area of the ballast tank due to metal fatigue. It is also looking at the redistribution of stresses in the area of major repairs done on the starboard ballast tank where the hull failure started, leading to unexpected high stresses in that area.

The ship remained in tow in severe weather for several days until on Nov. 19, it broke in two and sank. Oil seeped from the broken hull polluting much of the northwest coast of Spain.

By Sean Inniss, The Nassau Guardian

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