Work to recover the oil from the sunken tanker Prestige will begin this summer, according to the recent announcement made by the Spanish government. The project will be one of the most difficult salvage operations ever attempted with giant bags lifting Prestige's cargo to the surface. The wreck is lying in two pieces in about 3,500 metres of water. Spain's government has contracted the Spanish petroleum company Repsol YPF to retrieve the oil. Repsol intends to develop remote-controlled vehicles that can work at great depth. These vehicles will inspect the ship and patch up remaining leaks.
The robots will then attempt to make a hole in the wreck, to which they will attach a large bag, about 5 metres wide and 20 metres long. The oil should flow into this, as it is less dense than water. When full, the bag will be shuttled to the surface, emptied and sent down again. A backup plan is to erect a canopy like an immense marquee around the wreck, catch the rising oil in this and pump it to the surface. It might be possible to pump oil straight from the Prestige.
The ship sank with about half of her cargo of 77,000 tonnes of fuel oil. A small submarine patched up some of the holes in the wreck in January, but about a tonne of oil is still leaking each day. On the sea floor, the oil is relatively harmless. Conservationists fear that the wreck will break up and send another slick towards the Spanish coast, where it would wreak ecological havoc.