Twenty years since the Prestige incident

Posted: 15/11/2022
Categories: News – Incidents

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Prestige incident, which remains one of the most significant oil pollution incidents that the 1992 Fund has had to deal with.  The high amounts claimed in compensation, which were well above the amount available under the 1992 Fund Convention, highlighted to States the risk and potential financial impact of such incidents.  This accelerated the entry into force of the Supplementary Fund Protocol, increasing the compensation available under the international liability and compensation regime.

The Bahamas-registered tanker (42 820 GT), carrying 76 972 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, began listing and leaking oil 30 kilometres off Cabo Finisterre, Galicia, Spain on 13 November 2002.  On 19 November, while under tow away from the coast, the vessel broke in two and sank some 260 kilometres west of Vigo, Spain.  The break-up and sinking released an estimated 63 200 tonnes of cargo. Over the following weeks, oil continued to leak from the wreck at a declining rate. It was subsequently estimated that approximately 13 700 tonnes of cargo remained in the wreck.

Due to the highly persistent nature of the Prestige’s cargo, released oil drifted for an extended period of time with winds and currents, and travelled great distances. The west coast of Galicia was heavily contaminated and oil eventually moved into the Bay of Biscay affecting the north coast of Spain and France. Traces of oil were detected in the United Kingdom.

Together with the London P&I Club (the shipowner’s insurer), the 1992 Fund established a claims-handling office in La Coruña, Spain.  The London Club paid EUR 22.8 million and the 1992 Fund paid EUR 147.9 million in compensation.  However, the incident remains an open case due to ongoing legal proceedings in France. Full details can be found under the Incidents section of the website.

The organisation Cedre has published a dedicated information bulletin on the Prestige incident, to which the IOPC Funds has contributed.  The publication gives a detailed overview of the Prestige from the various perspectives of the parties involved and is available to download here.

Cedre is based in France, has observer status with the IOPC Funds and has been involved in many incidents over the years, including the Prestige, providing advice and expertise relating to spill response. 


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