ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE

French coastal towns consider fresh legal action after Prestige oil tanker ruling

Councils from Brittany and Landes join forces to seek compensation from the Spanish government

A Coruña -

French local governments and organizations along the Atlantic coast have announced that they are weighing possible legal action against Spain for the damage caused to their shorelines by the 2002 Prestige oil disaster.

Town councils from Brittany and Landes are joining forces to seek compensation from the Spanish government following the decision on Wednesday by an A Coruña court to hold no one responsible for Spain's worst-ever oil spill.

"We will not remain silent," said Renaud Lahitète, a lawyer representing plaintiffs who unsuccessfully tried to sue the Spanish government before the High Court in the past. He said they plan to ask the court to reopen the case.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón reminded Spaniards that the government must abide by the Prestige oil-tanker ruling. "We must respect the rulings by the court, whether we agree with them or not," Ruiz-Gallardón said Thursday in Ceuta. "As minister I cannot stand here and pass judgment on the current judicial system."

But Galician regional premier Alberto Núñez Feijóo, also of the Popular Party (PP), was more critical of the court's decision. "There must be someone who should have to pay for allowing floating junk to cause such an environmental disaster." On Wednesday, Judge Juan Luis Pía held no one responsible for the November 13, 2002 disaster in which the Prestige oil tanker dumped some 63,000 tons of crude into the Atlantic, polluting the Spanish, Portuguese and French coastlines.

The captain, the former director of the Merchant Marine and the ship's chief engineer were acquitted of environmental crimes following a lengthy litigation.

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