During the last week or so, one major news story has hit the headlines and dominated the airwaves in the Canary Islands. It has led to fiery exchanges between politicians and environmentalists, with some evidence that a ‘massaged’ account of events was being released to the press from those who have a heavy investment in the tourist industry.
Thankfully, there were others, including the environmental group, Greenpeace, who rapidly assessed the situation and gave a more balanced account of the crisis that is currently hitting the shores of these islands.
A Russian trawler, the Oleg Naydenov, which was often denounced by Greenpeace for illegal fishing activities, caught fire in the port of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The vessel was carrying 1,500 tonnes of fuel oil, and the port authorities decided to tow it out to sea, about 15 nautical miles south of Gran Canaria, to let it sink and, presumably, to forget about it.
The trawler is currently leaking between five and 10 litres of fuel oil an hour into open sea, and a robot submarine has detected that the wreckage is now located over two miles below sea level.
Both the Spanish and Canarian governments are looking at plans to either remove the remainder of the oil from the sunken vessel, or seal the holes in the hull that are causing the leak; both will be difficult and expensive operations.
Despite initial government denials about the severity of the problem and a less than frank account at a news conference, oil slicks were spotted on Greenpeace satellite images off the coast of the south of Gran Canaria, with oil appearing on several beaches.
Interestingly, the government has, so far, refused to release satellite images of the area for the public to see. As well as a being a major tourist area, the seas around the Canary Islands are rich in marine and bird life and already birds, turtles, as well an endangered loggerhead sea turtle have been found covered in oil.
Greenpeace are currently monitoring the situation, and warn that the contamination could worsen in the coming days. With an eye on the tourist industry, government officials continue to play down the crisis.
However, none of the beaches affected have been closed to visitors; indeed, I visited one yesterday and there was no sign of any pollution, although locals told me that council staff and volunteers had been there earlier in the day to clear away a small amount of oil.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it seems that the government’s decision to tow the fire stricken, fuel laden Russian fishing boat into open sea and let it sink may not have been the cleverest, or most environmentally friendly decision it could have made. In their defence, government sources claim that the decision to tow the trawler out to sea was to avoid the burning vessel contaminating the water desalination plant nearby.
The Spanish government has now announced an enquiry into the issue, and to consider what could have been done to avoid the catastrophe.
Many are comparing the current issues with the oil spill from the Prestige oil tanker in 2002, when 60,000 tonnes of oil poured into the sea off northern Spain. A few months ago, many islanders were concerned about the exploration for oil and gas that was taking place off the Canary Islands. Fortunately, the findings were of insufficient quality or quantity to develop commercially; the price of oil fell and the project was terminated, at least for the time being.
Although the current spill is minor in comparison to the Prestige oil tanker disaster, it does serve as a warning of what could happen should, one day, oil exploration and extraction resume off the coast of these beautiful, and environmentally rich islands.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle.
iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.
© Barrie Mahoney
Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/47128/
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