On 19 November 2002, the single-hull Aframax tanker PRESTIGE broke in two and sank in waters of the North Atlantic off the northwest coast of Spain.
It had been carrying a cargo of 77,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from Russia and Latvia to Singapore when it encountered heavy weather on 13 November. It suffered structural failures and developed a substantial list.
A distress call was made to Spanish authorities. The crew was evacuated shortly before the ship broke up. Much of the oil onboard was spilled immediately, and much of that came ashore on the beaches of Spain and Portugal and, to a lesser extent, France. Oil that remained onboard the wreck slowly seeped out and also came ashore.
Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were used to remove much of the remaining oil. In the aftermath, the European Union tightened its marine environmental protection regulations and pressed the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to take action. The phase-out dates for single-hull oil tankers were accelerated and restrictions were placed on the carriage of heavy fuel oil as cargo in single-hull tankers.
In a major miscarriage of justice, the master of the Prestige was arrested and held in Spain for an inordinate period on charges of impeding the movement of the tanker during the crisis. The Kingdom of Spain brought suit against the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) for negligent classification of the tanker. The suit was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence. The criminal trial in Spain of the master and various others eventually ended with the master convicted of disobeying an order issued by the Spanish government.