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“The Crying Post Project: Post #6, Black Tide.” Carnota, Galicia, Spain.
Post Notes

A ship carrying heavy oil near an ecologically sensitive coastline strikes an object causing it to leak. The government fearing a disaster leaps into action in order to tow the ship to a safer port. In stormy high winds the ship breaks in two, spilling much more oil and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The oil coats the coastline for thousands of kilometers destroying wildlife and putting thousands of local fishermen out of business for months or years to come. It was an accident - surely no one would do this on purpose - and in any case it was someone else’s fault that it happened in the first place. Of course, this sounds like most of the oil spills that have occurred over the past decades. In this case, it is the sinking of the Prestige off the coast of Spain in 2002, the worst spill ever near Europe, and perhaps one of the worst spills on the planet. If we look at the situation a little more deeply, we find, that unfortunately the Prestige was an "accident" waiting to happen, as have been most if not all of the other oil spills.

One and a half years after this disaster I went to Galicia to put up a Crying Post. Although I had expected that I would be able to hook up with one of the organizations that had sprung up in response to this disaster, that didn’t work out for reasons which may have as much to do with politics as with the language barrier. Nonetheless, I did connect with Liam, an English teacher from Ireland, his friend Xabier a local bar owner, and their friends Anna and Michael. Liam was kind enough to give me a tour of A Coruña; to explain local and national politics; and with Xabier we also checked out several of the bars in town. 

One of the things I learned was that this disaster spurred the government to finally pay off claims from an earlier spill nearby a full ten years earlier. This may be an indication of what people can expect from this disaster. Another thing that I learned was that although Franco has been dead almost 30 years now, his party still controls most of Spain, and the governor of Galicia is an old (very old) Franco crony. Because of their botched handling of the spill, any official support for my post would be challenging. 

Liam had been in touch with some towns run by the opposition parties, including one called Carnota, which was very interested, but unfortunately had not been able to make a decision by the time I arrived. So we decided to find an out of the way location along the coast. We found a fantastic site, and in the distance you can still see the oil stains on the cliffs. So Liam, Xabier and Michael went out with me to install the post. Liam not only gives English lessions, he also gives bagpipe lessons, which he has played since he was a child. Surprisingly, there are many locals in Galicia, particularly A Coruña, that are proud and supportive of their ancient Celtic roots. You can see this especially in the bars. So after the post was up, we were the happy audience of a special bagpipe concert designed to consecrate the site.
The Coast of Death

The state of Galicia is roughly a square at the northwest corner of Spain, just north of Portugal. On November 13, 2002 the oil tanker Prestige was moving south, to the west side of Galicia, not all that far from the coast, and almost certainly on the way to Gibraltar, one of the few ports in which it wouldn’t be properly inspected. At this time it struck something, presumed now to be a cargo container which ruptured the hull and the ship began to drift. Spain, still reeling from previous oil spills (5 in the past 30 years) in the same area which is called the Coast of Death, sent out a tugboat to get the Prestige as far away as possible.  

My friends in A Coruña tell me that initially the plan was to take the ship north into French waters, but they were stopped by France. Although the Spanish government denies this, the route the tug initially took was definitely north. After going north the tug pulling the tanker then turned around. The government of Spain says the plan was to take this badly damaged ship all the way to some undetermined port in Africa, where there would be less outcry. (Many of the largest spills do occur near Africa, to almost no world media attention. Even this one, which was on par with the Exxon Valdez received shockingly little attention here in the U.S.) Portugal claims that, intentionally or not, the ship was certainly being towed in their direction (albeit farther out to sea). 

At that point, some 240 km (150 miles) from the coast, both the Spanish and Portuguese governments sent ships to force the captain of the Prestige to start his engines and leave for the open sea. Although he initially refused, claiming that it would destroy the tanker, he nonetheless did so, at which point he was proven correct and the tanker broke in two and sank. The captain of the ship claims that he was acting responsibly from the moment of the accident, and that the ship should have been towed to a nearby Spanish port where the problem could have been dealt with. It is certain that the stress put on ship by all of these activities, in addition to the gale force winds and high waves, led to its going down on November 19. Unfortunately, where it finally sunk on the Galicia Bank, is a seabed known for its rich biodiversity and extensive amounts of flora and fauna. During this period one huge oil slick after another (as many as 200 sq. km or 80 sq. miles) was created. And because of all the towing they were spread across a much larger area. The oil was then pushed toward the coast by the direction of the waves at that time of year. 

The Spanish government had initially claimed that "it is not a black tide, just a few localized slicks," and subsequently that the oil would stay intact within the tanker in the frigid cold water. They said this as 150 tons a day were escaping the sunken ship. Such claims were dealt with in complete disbelief by the local people who could see with their own eyes the huge advancing slicks of black oil. Local fishermen who were prohibited from fishing became the first line of defense; trying to collect oil with buckets and garden tools, and even with their nets. Needless to say, these are not people who believe in the transparency of their government. In fact, as I was told, many older people don’t believe in the privacy of their vote, which is why they continue to vote for Franco’s party. 

When the government finally stepped in, their approach was purely cosmetic. The goal was to clean the oil off of rocks and beaches so that no one would see the problem. Nonetheless, even after the initial deaths of 15,000 birds (many rare and endangered), this poison has entered the marine food chain leading to animal deaths, and increased concentration in fish that will be consumed by humans. After only two months the government allowed fishing in some danger areas to resume! In some contaminated areas, fishing was never suspended at all. However, regardless of whether or not the fish will be toxic to consumers, their numbers have plummeted along with the expected impact on the economy. Some fishermen claim an 80% drop in yield. Anywhere from 12% to almost 50% of the local economies depend in some way on the fishing industry. 

Although the Spanish authorities have completely mishandled this whole affair, to an extent, they too are victims of a system that allows this to occur in the first place. Spain, and even worse, local people will bear the overwhelming cost burden to both their health and their economies. This is because of corrupt chains of ownership in the shipping industry. 

The 68 years old Greek captain has become the fall guy, and not allowed to leave the country since the incident. Initially kept in jail for three months, he was about to retire when this happened. He has clearly been scapegoated for this disaster, which unlike the Valdez, really was beyond his control. It was not however, beyond the control of the ship’s owners. The Prestige was owned by a "one ship" Liberian corporation. This in turn was likely owned by a secretive Greek shipping company. It was, in any case, registered by the Bahamas Maritime Authority, a country which exerts no real authority over its ships. Perhaps surprisingly, their main office is in London, England. 

The web of intrigue is only just beginning. The oil itself was owned by a company from Gibraltar, already noted for its lax controls. However, their headquarters are in Switzerland, and at least some portion of their directors are British. However, this company is in fact owned by a Russian consortium. The oil itself seems to have come from Latvia and was likely destined for Singapore. You can imagine how difficult it will be to find anyone to take responsibility. And don’t even get me started on how old the rusted ship was (26 years which will soon exceed new legal limits, and which is about 10 years older than most "responsible" corporations allow), or the false claims by industry that if it was double hulled this wouldn’t have happened, or the lack of a global comprehensive inspection service. 

But none of this is unusual in the oil shipping business, and neither is the pollution. In fact, this is all just business as usual. Amazingly enough within the Mediterranean sea alone some 2,600 tons of oil are spilled every single day. According to the World Wildlife Fund, "This spillage is from regular, deliberate, and illegal discharge of oil during tank washing or ballast water exchange operations from oil tankers as well as cargo and passenger ships." Over one year this adds up to an amount equal to 15 times that of the Prestige spill. 

One year later the damage turned out in many ways to be even worse than expected. In August 2003, the spill was discovered to be 60% larger than initially believed for a total of 64,000 tons, twice the amount of the Exxon Valdez. 13,000 tons remains within the wreck and 5,000 to 10,000 float offshore and occasionally wash up onshore. Because this oil is so thick, it will remain contaminating life for decades to come. Since the disaster at least 25,000 sea birds have died, although a very small percentage of injured birds have survived. The conservative estimate of total bird deaths is from 250,000 to 300,000. Ultimately 3,000 km (1,900 miles) of coastline has been polluted by the spill, including France, and as far away as Ireland. The timing of the initial spill was devastating, as many fisherman collect special types of seafood for Christmas, which in turn equals up to half their annual income. Since then at least 30,000 people in the fishing industry have been adversely affected to varying degrees. Some have permanently shut down. Depending on how damage is calculated this disaster either approached or exceeded that of the Valdez. For example, the Valdez only polluted 1,000 km (600 miles) of coastline.

And if you think that a disaster of this magnitude will have any effect on the industry, think again. There are close to 1,000 tankers in the same dilapidated condition as the Prestige, managed by the same corrupt chains of ownership. They can shut down single ship corporations (like that of the Prestige) with no repercussions to the real owners. There are no laws keeping such poisonous time bombs from passing through other environmentally sensitive areas; and still no global inspection authority.


Galicia is a structural old-land. West of a line running south from Ribadeo to the Sil river lie granites, schists and slates, little affected by the folding so marked in the Cantabrians, but considerably faulted and tilted during the Alpine orogenesis. 

The coastlines in general and in detail are largely controlled by the systems of faults running in two directions. West-east lines of weakness determine the alignment of the Rias Bajas, and produce inland the depressions of the rivers Miño, Lerez and Ulla. Crossing this latitudinal arrangement almost at right angles are north-south running fault-zones, one of which determines the main western coastline. From the human point of vie, however, the most important fault-line is the Tuy-Padrón-Portomouro rift. Farther to the east, and associated with the Hercynian tectonic movement, lies the great belt of schists stretching south from Vivero to Monforte de Lemos. 

In the main then Galicia, as also northern Portugal, is to be considered as a grid-faulted granitic block with schist inliers and a few small Tertiary basins such as that of Monforte. On this comparatively stable block, pre-Tertiary drainage systems produced a mature, undulating topography, of the type associated with old igneous rock weathering. 

Over this old Galician block the climatic elements are dominantly maritime. The Atlantic cyclone streams bring evenly distributed rainfall to all areas. Heaviest of the west facing residual blocks, lightest on the interior plateau, precipitation has but a faintly marked winter maximum. Fluctuating totals from year to year (mainly in the summer months) are, however, considerable. Even so the contrast between summer weather in Old Castile and Galicia can be quite startling. A sudden transition from a sunny brassy sky at León to a soaking Scotch mist at Orense is common enough. Orense itself, which in the long dry periods seems sufficiently Mediterranean in character, has umbrella-making as one of its chief activities. Open balconies characteristic of dry Spain are here glazed, so that La Coruña, one of the towns most exposed to Atlantic gales, has become famous for its glittering miradores and is known as the "crystal city." 

This relatively even distribution of rainfall and cloudiness is associated with fair uniformity of temperature. Temperatures rarely fall anywhere below freezing point, and in most areas a January mean minimum of 10°C (50°F) is normal. Ranges are greatest on the interior plateau where winter snowfalls are paralleled by hot, fairly dry summers.

Spain An Introductory Geography/ W.B. Fisher and H. Bowen-Jones
Post Place

N 43° 17.944’ 
W 008° 46.400' 
Elevation 57 m (188') 

Galicia was in the Middle Ages one of the constituent kingdoms of the crown of Castile, and subsequently a Spanish province. It occupies the northwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula and comprises the modern provinces of La Coruña, Pontevedra, Lugo, and Orense. Its name is derived from the Celtic Gallaeci, who lived there when the region was conquered by the Roman legions circa 137 BC. 

The language of Galicia is closely related to Portuguese, and a separate Galician-Portuguese language developed by the early 11th century. By the 13th century there was a flourishing tradition of lyric poetry in Galicia and, as a result, Galician-Portuguese became the language even of Castilian lyric poets until late in the 14th century 

Galicia, though regarded as a separate kingdom in the later Middle Ages, rarely enjoyed, or appears to have sought, political independence. Probably the possession of the national shrine of St. James of Compostela (Santiago de Compostela) from the 9th century attached the Galicians, for religious and economic reasons, firmly to the central kingdoms.

Encyclopedia Britannica
Spain still passing buck for Prestige oil disaster

March 03, 2004 
You may remember the Prestige, the tanker that sank off the Spanish coast in 2002. Some 80,000 tonnes of noxious fuel as thick as treacle seeped out of the vessel, fouling hundreds of kilometres of Spanish and French beaches, and creating Europe’s worst environmental disaster. 

What you may not know is that the Greek captain of the Prestige, 69-year-old Apostolos Mangouras, remains detained in Spain, under investigation some 15 months after the incident. 

There is no sign of a trial. After three months in a Spanish jail and payment by the London P&I Club of a record €3 million (Ł1.99 million) bail, his incarceration was reduced to house arrest. With his passport confiscated, he remains confined to a flat in Spain and required to report daily to the police. Despite pleas for his freedom from the Greek Government, shipping organisations and European parliamentarians, Spain is determined to punish the Greek captain. 

To the Spanish prosecutors, Mangouras is a villain, responsible for an economic disaster in Galicia, an impoverished Spanish province dependent on tourism and fishing. However, it is the Spanish authorities that are mainly to blame for the scale of the pollution. After months of investigation, there is little doubt that the Prestige broke apart because it was refused access to a port when it got into trouble. 

When Mangouras signalled to the control tower at Cape Finisterre that his vessel was taking in water, it was his first SOS for 32 years as a ship’s master. In a force 10 gale and with 25ft waves crashing over the bows, he stayed on the Prestige with two others after the rest of the crew was evacuated, trying to secure a tow-rope to a tug. 

The Spanish authorities say he refused to obey instructions, a charge Mangouras denies, but the main argument is over the port authorities’ refusal to let the Prestige into a Spanish port to unload the cargo. The port would not risk a pollution incident, but an investigation by the European Parliament concluded that it was the decision to tow the ship into the storm in the Bay of Biscay where it was battered to bits that spread the pollution over such a wide area. 

Mangouras has been treated shabbily, if not scandalously by a Government desperate to shift blame. In the initial confusion, the Spanish authorities even leaked a story to the press that the elderly captain had no master’s certificate, an allegation that was later admitted to be untrue. Since the Prestige incident there has been the usual flurry of EU legislation, including the prohibition of single-hulled tankers and directives over the procedures governing safe havens. 

Instead of seeking scapegoats, perhaps the Spanish Government should seek international solutions, such as more transparency. Why is it so difficult to identify the owner of a vessel? Why are the details of inspections not made available for public view, on the Internet, for example. 

In order to secure its borders from Middle Eastern terror, the US has introduced stringent rules on security. US customs can now prevent container vessels from leaving for the US if the coastguard is unhappy with the cargo manifest. But in the case of the Prestige, it is about money and the cost of transporting oil. It is only when the politics of terror distort the argument that safety becomes a primary concern. In the real world, safety is about risk and when risk is just rust, it becomes an equation of cost versus rate of return. 

The Spanish courts must decide whether, in a frightening storm in the Bay of Biscay, a ship’s master committed a crime while he was trying to rescue his crew, his ship and himself. You might think that their task is really quite simple.

Carl Mortished,,,8210-1023633,00.html
Not only do we build worlds, we live in them

Perhaps the most promising approach for environmental ethics, lies in [the] call for a productive tension between realism and constructivism. This position strives to combine the constructionist insight that we can have no unmediated apprehension of nature with the realist claim that the world consists of more than human mediations and, linked to this, the naturalists insistence on continuities between human and nonhuman nature. 

At its best, social constructionism offers environmental ethics several invaluable tools, beginning with humility about our own ways of seeing and being in the world and awareness of alternatives to them. More deeply, perhaps, constructionism suggests that nature "lies forever beyond the borders of our linguistic universe - that it does not talk back to us in a language that we can easily understand." However, the fact that we cannot gain knowledge of the nonhuman world easily or fully does not mean we cannot know it at all. We cannot step out of our skins, but at the same time, skins are not walls. 

Further, if it is true, that proper valuation and care require knowledge, then we have not only the capacity but also the responsibility to gain some (always partial) knowledge of nature. We can and must value the otherness of the natural world, the fact that it both exists apart from our theorizing and always remains to some extent out of our grasp. We live in the midst of multiple worlds, not all of them human, not all of them open to us. Sometimes, however, our trajectories cross, and "a piece of the universe is revealed as if for the first time." Hope lies in the possibility of this crossing, of glimpses into lives, and goods, that are both real and fragile.

Being Human: Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World/ Anna L. Peterson
Man Dies of Broken Heart

A hermit, whose sculpture garden was damaged by the oil spill which hit Spain's northern coast, has been found dead in his hut. Manfred Gnadinger's body was found on Saturday, at his home in the Galician fishing village of Camelle. Locals say the German-born man died of sadness, after the oil which has been leaking from the sunken Prestige tanker since November covered his garden. The oil also coated his sculptures, made from stones, driftwood, animal skeletons and other elements washed up by the sea. 

Gnadinger's sculpture garden was a popular tourist attraction for those visiting the Galician coast. It was signposted in the village as the "Museum of the German", and Gnadinger charged visitors $1 for admission. The garden was one of the worst hit by the spill. The path that led to his small hut was so saturated with oil, that the local authorities gave him a pair of Wellington boots to protect his feet - his only other item of clothing was a loin cloth. 

His neighbours in Camelle - where he was known as Man - said the shock caused by the disaster had visibly weakened the 66-year-old recluse. 

When Gnadinger arrived in Camelle in 1962 he wore a suit and tie and used to attend Mass, according to local newspaper El Correo Gallego. A few years later he began to show interest in ecological issues. By the end of the decade he had swapped the suit for the loin cloth he would wear until his last days and moved into a piece of land by the port. 

"I came here and built this to create my own world. I was looking for a place to be alone," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying. "This is my world. I don't think like other people." 

In his last comments to the media, he asked for his museum to be left untouched - an historical reminder of the oil spill. 

The local newspaper La Voz de Galicia said Gnadinger had been deeply saddened by the spill and quoted a friend Sunday as saying he had died of melancholy. "It doesn't matter what the medical bulletin says: the Prestige carried off Man," the newspaper said.


2. Reuters News Service

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela
The James whose shrine is at Santiago de Compostela, in north-west Spain, was the brother of John (the Evangelist). The Gospels record that they were fishermen, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon Peter, and called by Jesus from mending their nets beside the sea of Galilee at the beginning of his ministry. 

Legend has it that when the Apostles divided the known world into missionary zones, the Iberian peninsula fell to James. 7th and 8th century documents (i.e. prior to the discovery of the tomb) refer to the belief that he spent a number of years preaching in Spain before returning to Jerusalem, and martyrdom. His followers are believed to have carried his body down to the coast and put it into a stone boat, which was carried by angels and the wind beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the straits of Gibraltar), to land near Finisterre, at Padrón, on the Atlantic coast of northern Spain. The local Queen, Lupa, provided the team of oxen used to draw the body from Padrón to the site of the marble tomb (Arca Marmorica), a little way inland, which she had also provided. The saint was believed to have been buried with two of his own disciples, Athanasius and Theodore. But the site of his tomb was forgotten for some 800 years. (Late 19th and 20th century excavations under the cathedral have disclosed a Roman-period tomb below the high altar, and a stone inscribed with the names Athanasius and Theodore.) 

Early in the 9th century a hermit, Pelayo, was led by a vision to the spot. The tomb was rediscovered, and the relics authenticated as those of St James by the local bishop. Spain at this period sorely needed a new champion or focus to inspire Christians against the invading Moors. The rediscovery came therefore at a most propitious moment. And the pilgrimage began ... 

Though a few pilgrims to Santiago are recorded in the 10th century, and many more in the 11th, it was in the early 12th century - and particularly under the energetic promotion of Archbishop Diego Gelmírez (1100-1140) - that Santiago came to rank with Rome and Jerusalem as one of the great destinations of medieval pilgrimage. The first cathedral was built over the site of the tomb, and Benedictine houses were established, for instance by monks from Cluny in Burgundy and from Aurillac in Cantal, along the developing pilgrimage route. 

The last 20 years have seen an extraordinary revival of interest in the pilgrimage to Santiago. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987, and inscribed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 1993. Many thousands of people each year now make their way, on foot or by bicycle - sometimes also on horseback - along the ancient ways. There are as many reasons for this revival as there are pilgrims. It is noticeable, however, that many people make the pilgrimage at a turning point in their lives, and that many are helped to come to terms with personal crisis by a period of separation from all that is familiar, and the shared hardship of the road.

The Confraternity of St James,
The Hazel Tree

The hazel is one of the first trees to come into flower, beginning to blossom in early January. Both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant, appearing long before the leaves. Usually recognizable as a woodland shrub with a compact, rounded appearance, hazels will in fact develop into reasonably sizeable trees if not dwarfed by others. 

The ancient Celts regarded the hazel as the Tree of Knowledge. All knowledge and understanding was bound, sweet and concentrated, in the hazelnut’s kernel, so all wisdom was combined, as the saying goes, "in a nutshell." The hazel is a tree of white magic and healing. It is a poet’s tree, whose sacred nuts conferred inspiration and immortality and were the food of the gods. 

Forked hazel wands are used for divining. 

The hazel teaches us the noble arts of learning, teaching, communication, and healing. 

The hazelnut tree was also a traditional symbol of fertility in medieval Europe. Its nuts were phallic symbols because of the elongated appearance of its catkins. At the same time, hazelnuts symbolized female fertility because the nut protected by its shell was compared to a fetus’s being protected by the mother’s womb. This is perhaps why hazelnuts were an important part of the wedding-day meal during the Middle Ages.

1. The Wisdom of Trees/Jane Gifford 

2. Sacred Trees/Nathaniel Altman

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