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Aegean Sea

Name
Aegean Sea
Accident date
03/12/1992
Location
Spain
Accident area
La Coruna, Galicia
Spill area
Offshore
Cause of spill
Grounding
Quantity transported
79, 000 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
light crude oil
Quantity spilled
67, 000 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker
Built date
1973
Length
261.02 m
Width
40.67 m
Flag
Greek

On 3 December 1992, the Greek ore carrier the Aegean Sea was entering the harbour of La Coruna at 5 am, as a heavy storm was brewing, when she was steered off course and ran aground. She broke in two and burst into flames. The bow sank some fifty metres deep and the stern remained visible.

Apart from a few hundred cubic metres which were successfully pumped out of the stern, the whole cargo spilled out. However a large part burnt in the fire or was dispersed in the sea. In order to fight pollution, large clean-up operations were set up both on and off shore. Floating booms were used to collect some 5,000 m³ of oil/water mix, which was then treated. Operations also involved manual cleaning of the shoreline, in which some 1,200 m³ of sand and polluted debris were collected and then burnt.

Recovering oil on the shore. © Cedre
Recovering oil on the shore. © Cedre

More than 300 km of shoreline was affected, in the area hit a decade earlier by the Urquiola spill. This zone is important to the fishing industry and is particularly abundant in shellfish. There are numerous salmon and turbot farms, bivalve purification facilities and mussel cultivation areas. In an attempt to prevent the consumption of products from the area affected by the spill, regional authorities (la Conselleria de Pesca, Marisqueo e Acuicultura de la Xunta de Galicia) introduced a ban on fishing and on the sale of all seafood from the area.

Containing oil using sorbent booms. © Cedre
Containing oil using sorbent booms. © Cedre

As the situation returned to normal, the various bans in the affected area were gradually lifted between January and September 1993 and despite a certain amount of reluctance on the consumers' behalf about the quality of the produce, the industry gradually returned to normal. However, this spill affected more than 4,000 fishermen, shellfish harvesters and fish farmers. Media coverage also had a negative impact on tourism and a noticeable decrease in information queries and bookings was observed.

Oil from the Aegan Sea washed up on a beach.
Oil from the Aegan Sea washed up on a beach.

A claims office was opened in La Coruna shortly after the incident by the IOPC Fund (International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) and the Spanish Government. It received more than 900 compensation claims from individuals, firms and cooperatives, totalling nearly 300 million euros. Having little confidence in the possibility of amicable agreements, most claimants not only opened discussion with the claims office, but also entered into legal proceedings. This slowed down the compensation process and the Spanish Government had to advance compensations to most fishermen and shellfish harvesters in 1993. A first judgement took place in 1996, followed by an appeal judgement in 1997.

The captain and the harbour master were pronounced jointly responsible for the accident. As a result, the owner of the vessel (along with the IOPC Fund) and the Spanish Government (the harbour master's employer) were equally liable. Implementing the decision proved complex and in 1997 the Government had to provide credit facilities for the affected parties.
 The majority of the tourism, fishing and fish farming claims were gradually settled. But the shellfish harvesters' claims remained litigious. In 2000, the shipowner, his insurer, the IOPC Fund, the Government and the Galician authorities reached an agreement for the payment of a quarter of the remaining 320 million euros claimed. Similarly to the Haven case (Italy), a decree-law had to be passed by the Spanish Parliament before the final agreement was signed on 30 October 2002. The Spanish Government was bound by this agreement to take full responsibility for any remaining claims.

Pumping remaining oil out of the stern of the vessel after the fire.
Pumping remaining oil out of the stern of the vessel after the fire.
Last update: 08/02/2007