THE Prestige oil spill disaster in Northern Spain not only sent shockwaves as far as the Balearics where there is growing concern about the heavy traffic of potential dangerous material along sea routes through the channel between the islands and the mainland. The World Wildlife Fund has warned that the Balearics is located in a potential black spot and that the local authorities have reached the obvious conclusion that an oil spill, albeit minor in comparison to the Prestige would spell disaster for the Balearics' tourist industry and economy. The Balearics are considering following the example set by France this week which is moving to protect one its most precious maritime resources the Mediterranean with stiff new punishments for polluters. The measures will create an environmental protection zone off southern France's Mediterranean coast, whose sun-drenched waters and beaches draw hordes of tourists every year and the Balearics may even try to persuade the French to stretch the protection zone to include the islands and share responsibilty and “policing” of the zone. The World Wildlife Fund has welcomed the move.
The measures are directed at shippers deliberately dumping oil, garbage and other pollutants in the Mediterranean. It seeks to punish them even when they are outside French territorial waters which border Balearic waters in the Western Med. France will create an ecological protection zone extending up to 90 miles from its Mediterranean coast. France says it does not need the approval of neighbouring countries to implement the new measures, though other Mediterranean nations it has contacted generally welcomed the idea. The Mediterranean is a major world shipping route linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Suez Canal.
About a quarter of global oil traffic comes through the Mediterranean which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world because of its sun, sea and sand and now one of the World Wildlife Fund's “high risk” zones. The Prestige disgorged millions of gallons of oil when it broke up and sank in November, polluting Spanish and French coasts and shutting down fisheries. But French authorities say the washing out of ballast, oil and fuel tanks, the dumping of garbage at sea and similar practices cause more pollution than shipping accidents and are also common in Balearic waters as ships flush their tanks at sea because it is cheaper and quicker than doing so in port.


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