Trial Begins for Spain's Prestige Oil Spill Disaster

By MarEx 2012-11-20 08:54:00

Today, the trial for the decade-old Prestige oil spill that covered hundreds of miles of coastline along France and Spain began. The November 2002 spill has come to be known as Spain’s worst environmental disaster to many.

The oil tanker Prestige reported a gash in its single hull; some of its 70,000 tons of fuel oil cargo had started pouring out during an extreme storm off the “Coast of Death”. Spanish authorities soon ordered the stricken vessel to move farther off the coast. It struggled for days, but eventually split in two and sank. Oil continued to leak from it, at the bottom of the Atlantic, in the ensuing days, reports CNN.

The trial has now begun in La Coruna. The tanker’s Greek captain, Apostolos Mangouras, is pleading innocent and could be facing up to 12 years in prison if convicted on the environmental crimes he is being charged with. However, he is not expected to testify until next November 13th on the disaster’s 10-year anniversary. Three other individuals – a Greek officer on the ship, a Filipino officer on the ship and a former Spanish merchant marine government official – are facing lesser charges.

The captain, along with the ship’s insurance firm, could also face damage payments of up to $5 billion, if the court accepts the claims filed by the national governments of Spain and France, and by various local entities.

The trial is expected to take months, with a verdict possible by 2013’s fall season. According to CNN’s coverage, there are 70 lawyers and 1,500 claimants who are represented in 55 associations, and dozens of witnesses.

Activist group, Nunca Mais (Never Again), formed itself to aid in the clean-up effort. Today, hundreds of group members are protesting outside of the courthouse where the trial is being held demanding justice. Their legal representation is asking for five years of prison for the former Spanish merchant marine government official, although he has not been charged by the state. He is being accused of following orders to force the leaking vessel further offshore, rather than leading it to a port to suppress the damage.

Environmentalists believe the damage from the infamous Coast of Death spill will have lasting effects on Spain.