Submarine Crew Patches Hole in Sunken Oil Tanker

A submarine crew has patched one of the holes in the shattered hull of the oil tanker, Prestige, which sank offshore Spain. The Spanish government is hoping to stop as much fuel as possible from leaking.

Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the experiment was carried out to see if additional patching might prevent a further ecological disaster hitting northwest Spain's shores, which have been coated by foul-smelling sludge. "Yesterday it was possible to attach a cover that for the moment -- for the moment -- is plugging one of the cracks," Rajoy said. "In subsequent dives we will have to verify if it continues to work and if this is a valid procedure."

The tanker Prestige broke in two and sank on November 19, six days after fuel oil began leaking, creating what Spain calls its worst ever ecological disaster. It is estimated that the ship took 56,000 tons of its total load of 77,000 tons to the ocean floor, where it is leaking 120 to 125 tons of the toxic fuel each day. Much of the rest has washed ashore on the northwest region of Galicia, devastating wildlife, tarring beaches and throwing thousands of people in the fishing industry out of work.

Rajoy said he did not know when experts aboard the French mini-submarine Nautile would be able to say if plugging the holes was a solution. The oil could take anywhere from five to 39 months to leak out if it is not stopped or removed -- the latter option made difficult by the sea depth of 2.2 miles and choppy seas at the surface some 130 nautical miles off the coast. The government is holding out hopes that the oil will congeal at water temperatures of around 2.5 degrees Celsius (36.5 degrees Fahrenheit), but Rajoy said the oil was coming out at a temperature of 10 degrees. Oil within tanks inside the hull was expected to be warmer than 10 degrees but expected to cool over time, he said.