A major rescue operation is underway as seven tugs assemble to tow a tanker which was stranded near Cascais Marina on Saturday night.
The Captain of the Port of Cascais, Mário Fonte Domingues, said that the Tokyo Spirit's ballast tanks were pumped out this morning and after this stabilisation operation the tugs can get to work pulling the ship back into deeper water.
Commander Domingues did not rule out the probability of a fuel spill, or other types of pollution but added that there are vessels and equipment on stand-by in the area to deal with eventualities.
The operation will coincide with high tide starting at 16.00hrs.
The crew had elected to remain on board to help with the operation to refloat the stranded 247 metre ship that was sailing under the flag of the Bahamas.
Yesterday's high waves and very strong wind hampered earlier rescue attempts and the normal tugs failed to get a line onboard but larger tugs arrived today from Setúbal and Sines and the sturdy Commander is confident that the ship now can be refloated.
Initially, the situation was classified as "serious" by the Navy but with the crew remaining on board there was a reduced risk to life.
Well aware that environmentalist will cite this latest incident when highlighting the dangers posed by the bulk transport of oil, the port captain said these types of ship have a double skinned hull and rules have been tightened since the disaster in Galicia, Spain when the tanker Prestige* sunk and its cargo of oil polluted thousands of kilometres of coastline and more than 1,000 beaches on the Spanish, French and Portuguese coasts, as well as causing harm to the local fishing industry.
“This was never going to be an environmental disaster,” claimed commander Paulo Vincente as the ship had no oil, but with around 15,000 ships carrying dangerous or potentially polluting cargoes through Portuguese waters each year, there will be another incident at some point.
Update: the oil tanker Tokyo Spirit has been tugged to safety and is on its way to Setúbal where it is expected to arrive on Monday evening .
The commander Mario Domingues explained that the operation began on Saturday, when he was given the alert, and resumed on Sunday at around 14:30hrs with seven tugs engaged to drag the stranded tanker from its position. It was freed at high tide, around 16:00hrs.
In the Algarve the navy was called out on Saturday night to help the exhausted French and Belgian crew members of a yacht located 6 miles to the south of Olhão.
The crew of three and their yacht were guided to safety at dawn on Sunday as their yacht had difficulty entering the shelter of the Ria Formosa on its own due to poor sea conditions.
The two French and one Belgian were exhausted after sailing through very rough seas, the electricity was low and the navigation lights were dead.
The yacht had come from Cadiz, Spain and was assisted by a navy boat and the local lifeboat after an SOS was received on Saturday at 23.30hrs.
The French crew and yacht were brought to safety at around 03.00hrs this morning.
*The Prestige was a Greek-operated, single-hulled oil tanker, officially registered in the Bahamas, but with a Liberian-registered single-purpose corporation as the owner.
The ship had a deadweight tonnage, or carrying capacity, of approximately 81,000 tons, a measurement that put it at the small end of the Aframax class of tankers, smaller than most carriers of crude oil but larger than most carriers of refined products.
The French, Spanish and Portuguese governments refused to allow the Prestige to dock in their ports.
On November 13, 2002, while the Prestige was carrying 77,000 metric tons of cargo of two different grades of heavy fuel oil, one of its twelve tanks burst during a storm off Galicia, in northwestern Spain. Fearing that the ship would sink, the captain called for help from Spanish rescue workers, with the expectation that the vessel would be brought into harbour.
However, pressure from local authorities forced the captain to steer the embattled ship away from the coast and head northwest. Reportedly after pressure from the French government, the vessel was once again forced to change its course and head south into Portuguese waters in order to avoid endangering France's southern coast.
Fearing for its own shore, the Portuguese authorities promptly ordered its navy to intercept the ailing vessel and prevent it from approaching further.
With the French, Spanish and Portuguese governments refusing to allow the ship to dock in their ports, the integrity of the single-hulled oil tanker was quickly deteriorating and soon the storm took its toll when it was reported that a 40-foot (12 metre) section of the starboard hull had broken off, releasing a substantial amount of oil.
At around 8:00 a.m. on November 19, the ship split in half. It sank the same afternoon, releasing over 20 million US gallons (76,000 m3) of oil into the sea. The oil tanker was reported to be about 250 kilometres from the Spanish coast at that time. An earlier oil slick had already reached the coast.
The Greek captain of the Prestige, Apostolos Mangouras, was taken into custody, accused of not cooperating with salvage crews and of harming the environment.
After the sinking, the wreck continued leaking oil. It leaked approximately 125 tons of oil a day, polluting the seabed and contaminating the coastline, especially along the territory of Galicia. The affected area is not only a very important ecological region, supporting coral reefs and many species of sharks and birds, but it also supports the fishing industry.
The heavy coastal pollution forced the region's government to suspend offshore fishing for six months.