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REFLECTIONS ON THE PRESTIGE OIL DISASTER: (Part 2) The marine environment and sovereignty – lessons for Canada

By TONY SEED and GARY ZATZMAN

Part Two of a four-part series. Part One is here, Part Three is here, and Part Four is yet to be published.

HALIFAX (16 March 2004) – JACQUES COUSTEAU once observed that oil spills such as that of the Prestige off the coast of Spain are like smoking – the problem is the cumulative effect over time. Canada is already addicted. The cancer has been caused not by cigarettes but by American oil monopolies, their international shipping clients and a neo-colonial state. And it is metastatisizing.

The Bahamas-registered ‘Prestige’ oil tanker is seen broken in two before sinking into the Atlantic Ocean some 150 miles off Spain’s coast in the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday Nov. 19, 2002. The stricken tanker carrying 77,000 metric tons, 20.5 million gallons, was towed some 244 kilometres, 152 miles, off the coast when it sank creating an environmental disaster off the northwest coast of Spain and Portugal. (AP Photo/EFE/Spanish Navy)

Every oil spill, no matter where it occurs, says the Canadian Nature Federation, “should remind Canada of the need to improve its existing policies and practices regarding the shipment of oil by sea. The Prestige disaster is particularly relevant, as it clearly underlines the magnitude of the threat our oceans face.” It also clearly underlies the magnitude of the threat our nation faces.

Prevention is a responsibility of both ship owners (e.g., from hull structure to trained crew, tanker positioning and speed) and the government, through standards, regulation and enforcement.

However, the marine environment is not just a technical question of pollution abatement and prevention, as some environmental NGOs suggest, or an absence of “political will.” The political questions of sovereignty and its framework are fundamental. Continue reading

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