SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain – As a crippled tanker full of about 20 million gallons of gooey fuel oil split in two and sank two miles beneath the seething Atlantic’s surface Tuesday, experts feared the worst: Oil bubbling back to the surface that befouls Spanish and Portuguese shorelines, their fish and wildlife, and maybe even Mediterranean beaches.
Stormy conditions – which broke up the crippled tanker Prestige 150 miles off Spain’s northwestern coast – along with the unusual thickness of the oil and extreme pressure on the ocean floor, threaten the worst oil spill in more than a decade, said the U.S. government’s top oil spill response official.
About 1 million gallons of oil spilled instantly when the ship broke in two, spawning an oil slick of about 2,200 square miles – about twice the size of Rhode Island. Some Spanish beaches already are mired in oil from a spill last week, their sea birds covered in sludge. Fishing, a key industry, has shut down in vicinity of the port of La Coruna, about 370 miles