Clean-up ships and fishermen battled yesterday to protect Spanish beaches from a huge new wave of fuel oil heading towards the northwest coast from the sunken tanker Prestige. The Prestige sank 11 days ago releasing thousands of tonnes of fuel oil into the Atlantic and creating the main slick that was reported to be about nine miles (15 km) from Corrubedo on Spain's western coast. Smaller patches of oil were between one and three miles from Spain's northwestern coast, officials said. The area's notoriously stormy weather improved enough to allow contamination-fighting ships to go to work vacuuming up parts of the biggest slick, Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters in the port city of La Coruna. “I'm firmly convinced we will get through this situation,” said Rajoy, who is heading the government's response to the environmental disaster. But other officials were pessimistic. “The slick is close... The way it's going, there's no doubt it's coming towards the coast,” said Enrique Lopez Veiga, the top fisheries official in the regional Galician government. The slick is estimated to contain some 11'000 tonnes of fuel oil, far bigger than an initial oil spill produced when one of the Prestige's tanks was holed, for unknown reasons, in a violent storm on November 13. The first spill of some 5'000 tonnes of oil fouled beaches with an evil-smelling bed of tar, killed or coated hundreds of seabirds and caused untold damage to the region's renowned shellfish and fish resources. Some 400 km (250 miles) of coastline have been declared off-limits to fishing and shellfish gathering, putting thousands of seamen out of work and forcing the government to pay them 1'200 euros a month each in compensation. Seven ships, from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain, were working on cleaning up slicks at sea. They have so far collected 2'314 tonnes of fuel oil. Another 2'000 tonnes have been scraped up on land by hundreds of people, many of them volunteers, wearing white overalls and facemasks. Local people were hoping against hope for a change in the wind pushing the slick towards the coast. The new slick appears destined to pollute many of the same beaches that teams have laboriously cleaned up. The biggest fear is that it will strike rich shellfish grounds further south which have so far been spared. In a number of ports along the western coast, worried fishermen were putting together their own barriers with nets and other tackle to reinforce floating containment barriers. But the fishermen's desperate efforts may be doomed to failure. “We are being invaded from all sides,” fisherman Manuel Traba told Spanish television, adding that there was already a thin layer of oil in a river mouth near Finisterre. The sinking of the Prestige, a 26-year-old, single-hulled tanker carrying 77'000 tonnes of fuel oil, has led to renewed calls for tougher European maritime safety measures.