Students get £2.6m in aid after oil spill

February 14, 2003

The Spanish government has backed an aid package for Galician students affected by the Prestige oil spill in northwestern Spain.

The initiative, which would provide cash for local universities to promote research into conservation and the environment, coincided with a barrage of criticism from Spanish scientists over the official response to one of the country's worst environmental disasters.

Some €4 million (£2.6 million) was earmarked for students whose families were affected by the disaster in a scheme to be run by Galicia's regional government. Interest rates on student loans would be waived for university students affected.

Mar!a Nieves Dosil, a fourth-year telecommunications student at Vigo University, welcomed the aid measures. Her mother, father and brother all work in the fishing industry and are now unemployed.

But just e1.6 million would be used to promote research into environmental protection in Galicia. Funding would be available for postgraduate and postdoctoral grants, research projects and equipment.

Jaime Lissabetzky, opposition spokesman for science and technology, said this was not enough and that the initiative needed clarifying. "This government is always very concerned about its public image, but there is no information on implementation," he said. "A press conference is one thing, but what about action?"

Maria Jesus Sainz, La Coruña MP for the ruling Popular Party, said the initiative was part of a broader package aimed at revitalising the Galician economy. "This is not an exercise in public relations. It is not something to be sniffed at but neither is it the most important part of the plan," she said.

Last month, 422 Spanish scientists from 32 universities criticised the government's handling of the oil spill in a letter published in the journal Science . They believed the government's decision to take the oil tanker out to sea where it then broke up and sank made matters worse. "It is difficult to imagine a worse decision," said Pablo Serret, lecturer in ecology at Vigo and a signatory of the letter.

The scientists disputed government claims that they were consulted over the course of action.

Dr Serret was concerned that while a scientific committee was considering what to do with the Prestige and the fuel still on board, wider issues such as environmental impact studies, regeneration of the ecosystem or the best techniques for the clean-up were not being properly coordinated.

"Two and a half months on and there is still no official plan to address the broader issues," he said. "Everything is being done through personal contacts."

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