Staff Reporter
A team made up of specialists in several different fields from the Balearic University (UIB) has produced an action plan to minimise the effects of accidents involving oil tankers.

The manual establishes the conditions under which damaged ships should be taken to isolated “emergency ports” where their combustible cargo can be transferred to other vessels or land terminals.

According to UIB, the group which has developed the manual includes experts on microbiology, physics and chemistry, and is headed up by Professor José Ramón Bergueiro, the author of other investigations related to oil spills triggered by shipping accidents.

The project aims to answer the questions which are raised about “what should be done in the event of an oil tanker accident” and on the advisability of taking the ships away from the coastline to an “escape area” where the oil can be dealt with more safely.

The pilot scheme includes simulating such accidents in the proximity of the ports of Palma, Mahon and Ibiza, which will serve to set up a “handbook” enabling operators to recognise at what point it becomes necessary to get the stricken vessel to more isolated waters, and what minimum requirements are necessary in a port or other emergency refuge to moor it.

Bergueiro explained, through UIB spokesmen, that this investigation programme, financed by central government, is designed to “find the answers” which in the past had never been researched, and which were so much needed, at the moment when the Prestige sank off the Galician coastline in November of 2002.

Investigators have laid ground rules that any named “emergency ports” must guarantee the presence of personnel capable of towing operations, ensuring the safety of people in the area where the oil is eventually discharged, and of monitoring the transfer of the cargo to another ship or land-based terminal.

Other conditions which are essential for such emergency ports, consist of guaranteeing the salvaging of the stricken vessel and the minimisation of the effects of any oil which has spilled out onto the coast.

The UIB said that the current project is being produced thanks to the experience gained over the years when plenty of evidence has been available from ecological disasters which have resulted from tanker accidents.

Bergueiro, a chemical engineer, is one of the authors of a contingency plan to be launched in the event of an oil spill close to the Balearic coastline. The regional Socialist coalition government offered the advice to the region of Galicia in 2002 to help them tackle the Prestige oil pollution disaster.

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