Brussels, November 19, 2002 – Today’s oil spill disaster in Spanish waters shows the “crying need for tough new liability laws for environmental damage” Friends of the Earth said today.

The call came as it emerged that the tanker Prestige [1] – which threatens an environmental catastrophe off the Spanish coast following its sinking today – is registered in Bahamas, was managed in Greece, and carried oil for a Swiss company (with mostly British directors) whose ultimate owners are Russian. The oil industry has fiercely opposed liability for the impacts on biodiversity for a number of years [2].

Later this month [3] the European Parliament is due to discuss a draft EU Liability Directive. However the proposal has been criticised for being “so weak it is practically useless” [4]

Although there have been numerous serious oil spills around the coast of Europe over the last fifteen years [5] the question of who pays for the damage caused to the environment and peoples’ livelihoods has not been resolved. Communities are often left footing the bill many years after an incident has happened. Friends of the Earth says that oil companies must be made fully liable for their pollution.

“Once again a European coast is under threat from a massive oil slick. Although these incidents happen with depressing regularity nothing has been done to make oil companies still avoid paying for the damage caused to the environment and peoples livelihoods. Politicians must resist the disgraceful lobbying from the oil industry and their friends and draw up tough rules that ensure people and the environment are put ahead of big business,” Friends of the Earth’s pollution campaigner Matt Phillips said today.

Matt Phillips +44-20-7566 1660 / +44-7817 314 706 (m)
Roger Higman +44-20-7566 1661/ +44-7780 661 807 (m)

Mark Helm, 1-202-783-7400 x102, 1-202-270-3650 (cell/mobile)

FoE Vigo ( ) and FoE Galicia ( )


[1] The Prestige sank today off Spain’s north-western coast with a 70,000-ton cargo of oil.

[2] In the UK, foe instance, the government consulted on the directive earlier this year. The CBI attacked the directive, raising objections to liability for damage to biodiversity – even on internationally important wildlife sites. At present taxpayers pay for cleaning- up oil spills because of the Byzantine liability of the international shipping industry and the denial of liability by companies. In Europe the CBI is part of UNICE – the European employers organisation (‘The voice of business in Europe’). It has been leading an attack on the directive in order to ensure it is weak.

[3] According to Reuters 14 November 2002

[4] See Friends of the Earth Press Release – The polluter does not pay – (3 October 2002)

[5] These include The Brear (5 Jan 1993) off the Shetland Islands releasing 26 million gallons of oil, The Sea Empress (15 Feb 1996) off Wales spilling 18 million gallons of oil, and the Erika (12 Dec 1999) off Brittany on the French Atlantic coast spilling three million gallons of oil.