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Captain scapegoat Mangouras
and the Prestige oil spill

a continuing stitch-up

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The Prestige and trail of leaked oil
M/T Prestige and trail of leaked oil

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scapegoated twice - 2016, 81 year old captain found guilty again

Captain Mangouras acquitted - trial result, November 2013
Spanish mismanagement: will the 2013 Prestige trial be another shambles?
to trial, after ten years
the 2013 trial shambles
what happened to the Prestige, 2002
the onshore mess, particularily in south-western France
facts about the Prestige and its sinking in 2002
the complete Prestige disaster archive
end notes

scapegoated twice - 2016, 81 year old captain found guilty again

The Spanish government returns to blaming the man who tried prevent the worst recent oil disaster in Europe for their errors. Greenpeace now agrees with

"Greenpeace complained that the captain was being used as a "scapegoat" while other key players in the disaster were not in the dock -- including current incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was deputy prime minister at the time.

"The conservative Popular Party government in power had ordered the Prestige out to sea away from the Spanish coast instead of following an emergency plan that called for it to be brought to port where the leaking oil could be confined." [Quoted from]

Remember, it was a right-wing government that ordered a stricken oil tanker out into the teeth of a hurricane-force sea storm, and it is a court under another right-wing government that has passed this sentence.

As a direct result of ordering the ship out to sea, the tanker broke up and sank. Filthy bunker oil spread from Spain all the way up the Atlantic coast to Britain. It was the ship's captain who first requested the ship, the Prestige, be put into a safe harbour to minimise the spread of oil, and then when refused, nursed the ship in the appalling weather conditions until it could withstand the ocean's battering no more.

Oil tanker Prestige leaking oil
Oil tanker Prestige leaking oil

" "Given that I chose to remain on board, putting my own life at risk and saved the lives of my crew, I find it extraordinary that I should be treated this way," [Captaiin Mangouras] said.

"[... ] the terrified crew of the Prestige, mostly Filipinos, heard the grating, groaning noise of buckling metal reverberate through the 26-year-old single-hulled vessel. It was every sailor's nightmare, as the ageing tanker received a mortal pounding from 25ft waves during a force 10 gale off Cape Finisterre.

" "In the midst of the panic, with the tanker listing at a speed that would sink it, and in a fierce storm, Mangouras kept a cool head," says [former sea captain] Zamora. "Some officers were paralysed with fear, other crew members were weeping. But Mangouras never lost his calm, and his example meant that the chief engineer and a few crew members were able to follow his orders and organise the evacuation."

"Mangouras managed two crucial feats in those first hours, according to his supporters. He was able, though the lifeboats had been crippled by the waves, to arrange for the crew to be lifted off by helicopters and, by opening ballast tanks, prevented the vessel from listing further and sinking just a few miles off the Spanish coast.

"Ordering two of the port ballast tanks to be opened and filled with seawater, with the vessel already listing by more than 25 degrees, was one of two potentially life-threatening manoeuvres carried out by Mangouras and the crew members who stayed on board.

"Television pictures shot from a helicopter show one crew member disappearing under a massive wave as he tried to open one valve on the exposed deck. Fortunately, as the wave washed back across the deck, he could be seen still hanging onto the ship's structure.

"Later, at night, Mangouras and his chief engineer, guided only by torchlight, picked their way along a damaged catwalk to the forecastle to try to secure a line from the Ria de Vigo, a salvage tug that had been sent to help them. It took them 20 minutes to make their way along the rolling vessel, feeling at each step to see whether the catwalk would give way under them. " [Quoted from]


Captain Mangouras acquitted - trial result, November 2013

"An oil tanker captain was acquitted Wednesday of the central charge in what's widely considered Spain's worst environmental disaster -- a spill that blackened hundreds of miles of coastline.

"Apostolos Mangouras, who was captain of the Prestige during the accident in 2002, was found not guilty of environmental crime.

"He was, however, convicted on a lesser charge of disobeying orders from Spanish officials who tried to save the ship.

This is a face-saver for the authorities. After all, they cannot let an independent-minded master who behaved correctly and responsibly in the circumstances while pointing out the real culprits, various Spanish authorities, get off scot-free.

"Mangouras was sentenced to nine months in jail. But Spanish legal experts said prison time is unlikely for someone sentenced to less than two years who has no prior criminal record.

Eleswhere it has been said, "But, due to his age, Mangouras will not go behind bars." Captain Mangouras is now 78 years old.

"If he had been convicted of environmental crime, he could have faced up to 12 years in prison."

"The court ruled that a precise cause for the accident could not be established, so criminal responsibility could not be determined.

" "No one knows with certainty what could be the cause of what happened, nor what should have been the appropriate response to the emergency situation created by the serious problem of the Prestige," the verdict reads. "But no one can deny the structural problem, nor could they show during the trial where that problem occurred exactly or why." "
[Quoted from]

This is more avoidance of the real cause. As Captain Mangouras also keeps asserting, it was all the government’s fault. They ordered the ship away from the shelter of the coast and into the teeth of a raging storm. It was this that caused the Prestige, which had a crack in its hull, to break in two and spill most of its oil - 77,000 tonnes of filthy, sticky, black, heavy crude bunker oil. is not the only one to protest at the injust actions of the Spanish courts, INTERTANKO has published a scathing summary:

INTERTANKO considers the conviction and sentencing of Captain Mangouras as lamentable, inexcusable and fundamentally wrong, setting a precedent for the treatment as criminals of ships' masters who try to do their best for seafarers, ship and environment when under extreme adverse circumstances.


spanish mismanagement: will the 2013 prestige trial be another shambles?

Ten years ago almost to the day, an old cargo ship taking filthy bunker oil down the European Atlantic coast, ran into a near hurricane-force storm off Cape Finisterre off the north-west of Spain. Under the violent battering of the tempest, a side tank of the ship broke open and leaked its dirty cargo.

Now, after ten years of the Spanish government trawling for, they hope, sufficient ‘evidence’ to condemn their chosen scapegoat Captain Mangouras, a three-ring circus of a trial, the largest in the history of the town, started this week in La Coruña, capital of the Spanish province of Galicia.

0:20 mins [commentary in Spanish]

2013: to trial after ten years

The trial, expected to last until May 2013, will include 2,128 private witnesses, 98 experts, 51 lawyers and 21 solicitors, with 55 separate cases being brought by some 1,500 plaintiffs, using about 280,000 pages of evidence. It is being held in the local convention centre, Expocoruña, at a cost of 11 million €. The plaintiffs, including many Spanish fishermen, are suing for between 2.2 to 4.4 billion euro.

Captain Apostolos Mangouras. Image: Gustavo Rivas
Captain Apostolos Mangouras. Image: Gustavo Rivas

The trial’s defendants are the 77 year-old ship’s Greek captain Apostolos Mangouras, his chief engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and the former director general of Spain’s Merchant Marine who was responsible for ordering the old ship into the storm.  The first mate Irineo Maloto, a Filipino, is being tried in absentia because his whereabouts are not known!

Prosecutors want to jail Captain Mangouras for 12 years on charges of disregarding orders and harming the environment.

Jose Luis Lopez-Sors is the fourth defendant. Head of the Spanish merchant navy at the time, Lopez-Sors ordered the ship out to sea when it was losing fuel.

“ "There are many people who should be in the dock as well who are not there," said the coordinator of Greenpeace Spain campaigns, Maria Jose Caballero.

“Among those who should also be held accountable is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was deputy prime minister and government spokesman at the time of the accident, she added.

“ "We feel that the government's management of the accident bordered on negligence," said Caballero.

“The conservative Popular Party government in power at the time ordered the Prestige out to sea away from the Spanish coast instead of following an emergency contingency plan prepared by experts that called for it to be brought to port where the leaking oil could be confined.” [Quoted from AFP]

Also charged with civil responsibility in the case are the London Steam-Ship Owners Mutual Insurance Association Limited, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund and the ship’s owner, Liberia-based Mare Shipping Inc., and the Spanish State. The ship accreditation organisation, American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), is being sued by Spain in the USA


the coming trial shambles, 2013

Captain Mangouras is reported to be asking judgment be suspended because the operator of the Prestige, Universe Maritime, the other defendant being held responsible, is not being mentioned at the trial.

Regarding the charges of damaging the environment, his counsel wants these thrown out because the Government inspected the wreck of the Prestige without judicial supervision. His counsel also claims that the trial is unlawful because it is based on documents seized illegally from the tanker by three officials on November 18, 2002. Further, defence counsel believes that there was no judicial review and, anyway, boarding the Prestige was a“ violation of domicile”, the ship being Captain Mangouras’s ‘home’. This last is probably a rather weak argument.

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The Prestige shortly after it broke in half


what happened to the Prestige in 2002

First report
[From 16.11.02] An oil tanker, the M/T Prestige, carrying a cargo of some 77,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil is in trouble off an environmentally sensitive section of the Spanish coast, and it has spilled an undetermined amount of oil into the sea, currently estimated to be between three and five thousand tonnes.

After the crew of the Prestige had been airlifted off, the Spanish government arrested the ship’s captain for being obstructive. He had refused to start the engines when the ship’s difficulties began, in case the forces concerned ruptured the ship. He had also refused to attach tow ropes, for fear that the ship would be torn apart.

Both these events feared by the captain later occurred.

Concerned and careful, the Greek master, Captain Apostolos Mangouras, then aged about 67, turned his ship to the safety of the Galician coast.

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[From 31.12.02] According to the Voice of Galicia newspaper, who have access to court documents, the captain of the Prestige suggested mooring his ship close to the coast to enable the holds to be pumped.

“The Spanish authorities sent the ship into the open sea and there the hole became a lot larger. This was an error, it was necessary to take the ship to a calm area and transfer the cargo”, Captain Apostolos Mangouras said. He had offered to the Spanish authorities to stop his ship drifting by anchoring it four miles off-shore, using two anchors with 325 metre-long chains. He had also twice asked for tugs to try and maintain the ship in position until the weather became calmer. Each time, the response of the authorities was negative.

Not only was Captain Mangouras refused this possibility of escaping from the ferocious waves and wind so he could off-load the 77,000 tonnes of foul cargo, but he was then arrested, while his ship was towed out to sea in the teeth of a Force 9 gale (Force 10 is hurricane force).

“In November 2002, on the orders of Spanish authorities, an oil tanker in difficulties was dragged through a raging sea-storm away from the Spanish Galician coast, despite the advice and warnings of the soon-to-be arrested captain [2], and others. For six days, a damaged tanker was hauled through 30-, 40-metre waves and almost hurricane-force winds.

“The Prestige broke in two and sank, spilling tens of thousands of tonnes of residual heavy crude oil. She sank in deep waters, so very difficult to salvage the remainder of the oil before further ecological damage was done.” [Quoted from, original page no longer available]

The Prestige in stormy seas before it broke up. Image:  / EFE / PESCA
The Prestige in stormy seas before it broke up. Image: EFE / PESCA

On 15 November 2002, two Dutch salvage tugs, towed the vessel to a holding position some 60 miles clear of the Spanish coast and, “following fresh instructions from the Spanish authorities”, then started moving the tanker “to a distance of at least 120 miles offshore”. [Quotations from the website news reports of the salvage company, Smit. Link no longer available.]

The Force 9 winds and large seas meant that by the 17th, the ship was 65 miles off shore, heading in a southerly direction where the weather was more favourable,“ the intention being to enter a sheltered location suitable for ship-to-ship transfer of the vessel’s cargo”.

However, at 15.00 hours on the 17th, “the Spanish authorities requested the convoy to remain at its present location, pending their instructions”.

The route of the stricken oil tank Prestige

But with the Prestige “exposed to the violent Atlantic conditions”, on the 18th November, the salvage team “had no option but to head south in search of calmer waters”. In a stable condition, the ship was towed on a southerly track with the salvage convoy, some 70 miles offshore. “The decision to go south was dictated by the hostile weather to the north. Calmer waters were vital if the vessel’s cargo is to be saved.”

So the Spanish government first punished the Prestige’s captain for doing his best to prevent a disaster, then ordered the salvage tugs to take the ship in a direction where it would be “exposed to the violent Atlantic conditions”. We know the result.

- to larger image - Prestige oil in French waters
Prestige oil in French waters

the onshore mess, particularly in south-western France

Of course, all the heavy fuel oil spilt from the stricken tanker had to go somewhere, and given the on-shore winds and currents, that place was the beaches and harbours of Spain and France along the Atlantic ocean.

progression of oil slicks and deposits on the coast line diagram showing progess of oil slicks
line diagram showing progess of oil slicks
Last updated 26 December 2002
line diagram showing progess of oil slicks
Last updated 1 January 2003
Right: last updated 31 January 2003   

images of the filthy mess on the coast and its clear-up [click on image for larger version]

lumps of oil on a beach collecting oil lumps barrage to prevent oil incursion fishers of oil
lumps of oil in the sand collecting oil lumps a barrage to stop oil coming inland fishermen turned oil fishers passing an oil-coated quay
wood, plastic, glass and ... tarry oil
Collected from a beach: wood, plastic, glass and ... tarry oil

Right: looking along a French beach at the Prestige oil jetsom
looking along a French beach at the Prestige oil harvest

This is not the only spill to occur on this stretch of Spanish coast:

Oil spills off Spanish coast                    Oil spill quantities can only be estimates.
Incident Date Location and incident details

’000 metric tonnes spilt

million barrels million US gallons Oil type
Prestige 2002
13 Nov.

Galician coast, west of La Coruña.

77 0.55 23.1 residual fuel oil
Leaking tanker towed along coast, then broke and sunk 350 km (220 miles) west of Cape Finisterre. (above amount is the listed cargo.
amount spilt so far listed here.
Aegean Sea 1992
3 Dec.
harbour port,
La Coruña, Galicia (double-hulled)
74 0.53



not known
Andros Patria 1978, 31 Dec. Cape Villano, Galicia
(90 km west of La Coruña)
49 0.35 14.6 not known
Urquiola 1976
12 May
harbour port,
La Coruña, Galicia
100 0.72 30 not known


facts about the Prestige and its sinking in 2002

  • ABS had certified the ship was seaworthy six months previously
  • the Prestige was 26 years old
  • Captain Mangouras has 44 years experience
  • after the first May Day call for help, the Prestige travelled 28 miles before sinking
  • it was 6 days between first problems and the ship breaking up
  • about 300,000 volunteers helped clean up the mess along 3,000 miles of coast from Portugal to northern coastal France
  • the oil leaking from the Prestige caused the oiling and death of up to an estimated 230,000 seabirds of over 90 species. The Erika spill killed about 250,000 birds.
  • fishing, particularly of shellfish was disrupted during several years
  • an estimated 11,000 tonnes leaked before the ship sank


the complete prestige disaster archive

Summary report on one of the worst coastal oil disasters ever (June 2006)
Latest Spanish government whitewash debunked
In June 2006, the corpse of the Prestige, on the seabed, was finally emptied of the foul bunker fuel
In June 2006, Captain Scapegoat Mangouras was finally released from arrest after 1 year, ten months and 17 days and allowed, if only temporarily, to return to his home on Greece
EU committee and Greece point finger at Spain (April 2004)
EU parliament officially condemns Spain over the Prestige (April 2004)
The Spanish Emperor has no clothes—facing up to reality (Jan & Feb 2004)
Method for emptying Prestige decided, and other articles (Dec 2003)
Spanish pantomime scene 1 & 2 (Dec 2003)
Summary article - a year after, and other articles (Oct to Dec 2003)
Articles from Sept 2003
Articles from June to Aug 2003
Articles from April to May 2003
The politics of irresponsibility (March 2003)
the Prestige debacle (March 2003)
on cleaning up the spill (Feb 2003)
The politics of irresponsibility (Jan 2003)
The politics of irresponsibility Feb 2003)
The Prestige: Latest reports (Jan. 2003
The politics of irresponsibility (Jan 2003)
The Prestige debacle, part 3 (Nov. & Dec.2002)
The Prestige debacle, part 2 (Nov. & Dec.2002)
The politics of irresponsibility (Nov & Dec 2002)
Another potential ecological oil mess (Nov. 2002)

associated articles and data
World oil resources
World oil reserves and oil-based fuel development
World primary energy consumption (at the end of 2001)
Oil technical information and data

related material
there she blows! striking oil
tar sands and shale oil
transportable fuels
fossil fuel disasters
fossil fuels are a dirty business
replacing fossil fuels: the scale of the problem
replacements for fossil fuels—what can be done about it?


end notes

  1. Heavy fuel oil, also known as residual fuel oil, the residue from refining, is too viscous for beach cleanup with industrial vacuum cleaners. Buckets, spades and gloved hands, as well as protective suits and face masks, are the tools required. This stuff is seriously filthy muck, the worst possible kind of oil spill. It is concentrated, sticky and contains very few volatiles, these having been recovered for use as motor and other fuels. Heavy fuel oil is destined as fuel in power stations or industrial heating. It is both hard to burn in the open and does not evaporate easily.

  2. “The M/T Prestige suffered a fracture in the side shell on 14 November 2002 during a spell of very severe weather outside Spain. The M/T Prestige was a 1976 built Pre-Marpol single hull crude oil tanker that had later been converted only to carry crude and products oil in dedicated cargo tanks and to use some wing tanks for segregated ballast. Cargo in the remaining wing tanks could only be part loaded for hydrostatic balance. She was 26 years old.

    “The side shell fractured and was followed by flooding of an empty ballast wing tank. Following being towed further out to sea, the fractures in the tanker side structure extended in all directions and on 18th November about 40 meters of the complete shell shell and 8-10 meters width of the main deck fell off the tanker. Probably the same part of the bottom fell out. The global strength of the hull beam was severely reduced and fractures could easily develop across the full beam - cargo oil started to leak: on the 19th November in the morning the tanker broke into two halves and soon both halves and 77 000 tons were lost.” [Quoted from]

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