Monday, October 26, 2009


After the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige in Galicia on the 13th November 2002, causing the biggest black tide in the history of Europe, Legambiente, one of our partner organisations in Italy, began mobilising teams of volunteers to go out and help with the after effects of the disaster. From the 8th December, 5 teams travelled to Galicia to work alongside the organisations ADEGA and SEO, rescuing birds and trying to clean the beaches. For the two months that Legambiente representatives and volunteers were present, they kept a diary in an attempt to encapsulate their thoughts and feeling about the catastrophe:
30 November 2002

THE BLACK TIDE STRANGLES GALICIA - Ten days after the sinking of the Prestige, the catastrophic gravity is still present. Rocks, beaches and even the piazza of this sweet Galician village are coloured black and covered by a nauseating oil layer, many centimetres thick in some places. A few seagulls continue to fly, curious about the actions of those strange Martians who try to clean this toxic waste from beaches and rocks. On the other side of the village, the beautiful beach shows no evidence of the tragedy; seagulls and cormorants continue their lives over the sea, going out only to dry their feathers in the sunlight.
The only sign of the catastrophe is the small port, completely full of boats, that at this time should be working on the sea. The fish market is empty. Many houses have hung a banner against the government's censoring of information, the mass-media and the management of this crisis.
From the first moment, the Spanish authorities have tried to minimise the dimension of the accident. "A black tide never existed. Only some cases of pollution at the coasts, spread as leopard spots". If we look at the actual facts, we find that

400 Km of coasts are contaminated. Out of 350 beaches existing in Galicia, about 150 are affected, and about 700 people and thousands of volunteers, who do not see their efforts recognised or organised by anybody.
Many beaches look intact or already cleaned, but actually the oil is still there, hidden under the sand, because the oceanic tides and the powerful waves settle it, creating a kind of "sandwich" with deadly effects for the fauna of the sand: As many people say, this is only the first step of the real black tide.
13 December 2002
GALICIA, THE FISHERMAN'S DRAMA - The first Legambiente group has arrived in Galicia. They will stay for ten days. We are continuing to search for contaminated birds, from Fisterra to Muxia. At "Langosteira" beach we have
just found eight "Chapapote" victims - Chapapote, a new Galician word born to definite the thick oil poured into the sea by the Prestige...sounds even funny, but it's not...

We have found the army cleaning the oil on the beaches, together with the fisherman, and with the Spanish and international volunteers. The fishermen are those most affected by the economic consequences of this tragedy. Those who have a license will receive some money from the government, but there are too many without a license...too many that live from the sea will receive nothing.
From the fisherman's' words we recognise a trauma, they are already thinking about other jobs, other places: "Because this oil we see at the beaches is a very small
part from what is into the sea".
2 January 2003 - DIFFICULT NOT TO CRY
Today 18 tonnes of oil has
passed through my hands,
dense, nauseating, sticky, cursed. Today, a free day for the army, we have had access to one of the most contaminated beaches. What we saw today was totally different from the other places, and the things seen until now. It was horrendous. Difficult not to cry.

dense, nauseating, sticky, cursed. Today, a free day for the army, we have had access to one of the most contaminated beaches. What we saw today was totally different from the other places, and the things seen until now. It was horrendous. Difficult not to cry.

6 January 2003
Today is Sunday, and we are at Santiago. Like every Sunday, at the Cathedral's square there is a small demonstration. The people are dressed with the typical white overalls the volunteers wear who work at the beaches. There is a sign which says: "Criminal Impatience", "democratic cleaning up"; there are also written some names

of politicians - Aznar and other ministers blamed by the demonstrators for the chaotic situation. Some of the people say it is easier to clean the beaches than the Spanish government.
22 January 2003

CLEAN HANDS - Today we have come back to Praia De Carnota beach, which adopted us for three days. After having cleaned with a lot of effort the "chapapote" over the rocks, they are dirty again, and last night the black tide arrived for the seventh time. But our work yesterday wasn't useless; the oil that yesterday we collected is not going to come back to the sea.

It's half-past eight in the evening. We have just come back to our hostel, time to take a shower and go to the bar for a beer, talk about the day's work and write these lines to inform you, hoping you don't forget what we are seeing here.

From April onwards, Legambiente will begin again sending volunteers to carry on the work of clearing the Galicia beaches. If you are interested in assisting, further details are provided in the Special Projects section of this newsletter.

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