The Prestige was just another anonymous ship decaying on the high seas until one final storm found it in the world’s headlines. The Liberian single hull tanker flying the flag of the Bahamas ran into trouble on November 13, 2002, off northwestern Spain. On the orders of the government, it was towed around for six days, laden with fuel, to try to distance it from the Galician coast.
On the nineteenth of November, at eight in the morning, carrying a 77,000 metric tonne cargo, the Prestige broke up, and sank to a depth of four thousand metres. Around 50,000 tonnes of oil escaped, polluting the Spanish, Portuguese and French coasts for thousands of kilometres.
Galicia got it the worst – a historical environmental disaster. Fishing and farming were terribly affected. Dozens of supposedly protected nature areas were struck, and sea and bird life extinguished.
Some 300,000 volunteers mobilised from across Europe, to try to contain or clear the damage.
The Madrid government had a political disaster over it as well. Prime Minister José María Aznar had ignored the Prestige oil spill. He and his conservative Partido Popular would face protests up and down the country.
In 2006, new leaks from the sunken wreck were detected, and further costly improvisation to contain them was required. It is still not certain how much oil remains in the broken ship, four kilometres deep.