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[Opinion] The Prestige

Posted November. 21, 2002 22:50,   


▷There is a straight called Prince William Sound in the south part of Alaska. English captain Vancouver named the place in 1778 after the son of the then King of England George III. The straight is known for its natural beauty - high mountains, icebergs, fjords, caves and small islands. It is also a home of a wide variety of wildlife such as grizzle bears, baldhead eagles, whales, otters, seals and sea birds. The calm water sets a perfect stage for cruising in a small boat. A cruise along the Valdez port is, in fact, one of the area`s tourist attractions.

▷Then, a disaster scattered the pristine Alaska on March 24 1989. Exxon Valdez, a tanker laden with 220,000 tonnes of crude oil, ran aground in the nearby sea, spilling 41,300 tonnes of oil. The oil blackened a 1,600km stretch off the shores, killing some 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 otters, 300 seals, 250 baldhead eagles and many other sea creatures including fish. Exxon had to spend $2.1 billion, or about 2.5 trillion won, cleaning up the mess after the worst environmental disaster in the history of the country. Since then, the Exxon Valdez has been identified with the world`s worst oil spill accident.

▷A Bahaman tanker named the Prestige, which was heading toward Singapore carrying 770,000 tonnes of fuel oil, broke in two off Spain after being ruptured in a storm on Nov. 19. As it sank in the Atlantic, it leaked some 10,000 tonnes of oil in the water, blackening the area and killing fish and birds. With the wrecked ship now on the bottom of 3.5km-deep sea, experts say it appears almost impossible to pump oil out of the tanker. They also point out that fuel oil is more poisonous and harder to clean up than crude oil. If some 60,000 tonnes of oil kept inside the ship leaks out in the deep water, it will cause a devastating destruction to the ecological system. The world is now watching how things will unfold.

▷After the Exxon Valdez incident, the International Maritime Organization adopted an international treaty that requires tankers loading more than 600 tonnes of oil to be equipped with a double-hulled structure. A fatal loophole of the treaty, however, is that tankers already in use will not be covered by the treaty until 2007. The Prestige was a single-hulled tanker built in 1976. With 52% of 10,000 ton-class oil tankers sailing around the world being single-hulled, no one knows which one to become the next Prestige.

Mun Myung-ho, Editorial Writer, munmh97@donga.com