Up to 125 tonnes of fuel oil are leaking from the sunken tanker Prestige every day, threatening further damage to the devastated coastline of northwestern Spain, officials said yesterday. Foul sludge is oozing from nine cracks in the bow and five cracks in the stern of the Prestige and is taking about a day to reach the surface of the Atlantic, Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters in the city of La Coruña. “When it comes to the flow, estimates are that there are some 80 tonnes per day leaking from the bow and around 45 tonnes from the stern. We are talking about 120 to 125 tonnes per day,” Rajoy said. “It is moving upwards and takes about a day to reach the surface.” A government oceanographer said the fuel would almost certainly move toward land and that it posed a danger unless cleanup ships were able to suction it out of the water. The Prestige, laden with fuel oil, snapped in two and sank on November 19, leaving a series of slicks in its wake which have ravaged wildlife in Spain's prime fishing region, Galicia. The government is now calling it the country's worst ever environmental disaster after minimising its impact in the first few weeks - a stance that brought wide criticism. In an extraordinary admission on Monday, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said the government may have made mistakes in its early handling of the disaster. Rajoy said experts did not foresee any further cracking of the shattered hull. But the government has been forced to backtrack on similar statements before. Spain once said it expected the fuel oil to solidify inside the ship at the bottom of the sea, where the temperature is 2.5 degrees Celsius (36.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Now there is proof it is leaking. Cabinet ministers also assured the people of Galicia there were sufficient means available to battle the black tide, only to admit later a shortage of clean-up materials. Information on the state of the wreckage comes from the French submarine Nautile, which has made several voyages to the Prestige site some 3.5 km (2.2 miles) beneath the surface. The 26-year-old tanker sank about 130 nautical miles (240 km) from the Spanish coast, six days after first springing a leak from its single hull, which carried 77'000 tonnes of fuel. As much as 60'000 tonnes went down with the ship. At 125 tonnes per day it would take 480 days for the Prestige to empty. Specialised clean-up ships have collected some 11'200 tonnes of fuel oil from the sea while fishermen have scooped up another 1'600 tonnes, but Rajoy said their efforts have been slowed in recent days by stormy weather.