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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spain: Oil Cleanup to Cost $42M

CAION, Spain -- The tanker that broke in half and sank apparently took most of its cargo of toxic fuel oil to the frigid bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, where it may solidify and pose less danger to fishing grounds and scenic beaches along northwestern Spain, a government official said Wednesday.

"There have been no new oil spills since the boat went down," said the government's chief representative in northwest Galicia, Arsenio Fernandez de Mesa.

Spanish officials flew over the area where the Prestige broke up, 245 kilometers offshore, and then back along the coast to review another slick left by the Bahamas-registered tanker after its hull cracked last week in a storm. In all, an estimated 6,000 tons or more of heavy fuel oil leaked.

Fernandez said Spanish experts believe the tanker sank 3,500 meters to the ocean floor with 70,000 tons of fuel in its tanks. The fuel is believed to have solidified with the drop in temperature.

Gingerly touching some tar-like oil at what last week was a pristine beach near this small fishing port, Environment Minister Jaume Matas said all the damage so far is to Spanish territory, not Portugal to the south.

About 90 beaches along 295 kilometers of shore suffered pollution, and the preliminary cost in terms of cleanup and lost economic activity was $42 million, he said. The government curtailed fishing in the area. Matas said it would take at least six months to clean up the coast.

Surrounded by cleanup crews and television cameras, Matas pledged to repair the damage "so this coast becomes again what it used to be. We have to wait and be prudent because we still don't know whether we have passed the threshold of this crisis."

Portuguese authorities also sounded a little more optimistic that waves of asphalt-like oil were not looming over the horizon to spoil the Atlantic coastline shared with Spain.

The slick of 36 kilometers by 500 meters visible Tuesday could not be found Wednesday, when Atlantic winds reached 100 kilometers an hour and waves topped eight meters.

"It's likely it was dispersed by the stormy weather," said Augusto Ezequiel, coordinator of a crisis group set up by the Portuguese navy.

Winds were pushing another slick from the site where the tanker sank. "What we do know is that the evolution of the slick is northward and that's a good thing as it stays clear of the coast," Fernandez said.

The Prestige ruptured in stormy weather last Wednesday, initially spilling about 3,000 tons of fuel oil. Salvagers estimate it dumped another 3,000 tons into the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday when it sank. Along Spain's northwest coast, cleanup crews continued scooping sludge from dozens of beaches, and maritime authorities prepared to deploy more barriers to keep the oil away from fishing grounds and shellfish beds.

Fishermen in the area around Arosa inlet, one of the deepest in the region, reportedly set up a barrier including some 1,000 boats to try to prevent any slick entering the fjord.

Meanwhile, the Development Ministry said it notified the ship's insurers London Steamship that a case was being filed against the company, the ship, its owner and its captain.

The Prestige was loaded with 77,000 tons of fuel oil for its voyage from the Baltic Sea to Singapore.

The ship had no history of major safety problems and had been inspected as recently as last month in St. Petersburg, Russia, according to the American Bureau of Shipping, a Houston-based firm that validated the ship's structural and mechanical fitness.

European countries called for tighter controls on shipping of hazardous cargo after the accident.