Portugal “has means to combat pollution at sea in the event of oil spill”

In a week when the country’s only MP for the People, Animals and Nature party (PAN) admitted that the environment is “not a priority” of the current government – nor of any of the parties that support it – Portimão hosted a two-day seminar, entitled Preserving the Marine Environment, which saw national media affirming that “Portugal has the means to combat pollution at sea, in the event of an oil spill”.

The news comes amidst the ongoing controversy over drilling plans that straddle every inch of the Algarve’s coastline and beyond.

Thus is was odd to say the least, say anti-oil campaigners, that civic society, NGOs and environmental groups opposed to oil and gas exploration were not informed of the initiative, nor invited to attend.

Said CEO of ASMAA, one of the leading groups in this ‘campaign to save the Algarve from the ravages of fossil fuel exploration’, the event constituted a “lost opportunity for showing good faith and transparency on the part of the government”.

“What really gave rise for concern was that normally (wherever and whenever there is an oil spill) local NGOs, community groups and the general public are involved in clean-up operations”, explained Laurinda Seabra.

Leaving them out was “short-sighted” in ASMAA’s opinion, she said.

Nonetheless, the group gave as good as they got, tabling a list of questions that they said left oil company representatives in “stunned silence”.

The problem, nevertheless, is that “it appears that it is business as usual” as far as exploration plans are concerned.

No matter how many local voices speak out against the threats posed on multiple fronts, the government has shown it is intent on pursuing oil company agendas.

Secretary of State for the Environment Carlos Martins apparently saw no irony in the fact that the very need for a seminar about combating oil spills shows risks must be set to increase for a country dependent on buoyant summertime tourism.

Martins concentrated on the fact that Portugal can guarantee a “rapid and efficient response” – a thesis borne out by simulations on Thursday of various boat disaster scenarios involving the Sines and Algarve Ports authority, Zoomarine, the University of the Algarve, the Air Force, European Maritime Agency and Spain’s lifeboat and marine safety society.

Deflecting attention – or at least attempting to – from the prospect of oil and gas drilling platforms springing up along the coast, Admiral Maciera Fragoso told the seminar that there was “a high risk of spills occurring, due to the intensity of annual traffic in the order of around 160,000 ships” passing through Portuguese waters.

“We have to be prepared and have means of response to protect our coast”, he told the audience, adding that “some measures of protection implemented in Europe result from learning from accidents”.

ASMAA’s final report on the event boiled down to the stark reality that “the government is continuing with the oil and gas drilling process as if there are no objections from the general population”.

It is a stance that can be seen elsewhere in the Algarve, in relation to the demolition of fishing communities in Ria Formosa, pushed through despite widespread opposition in the form of multiple petitions, municipal vetoes and even interventions by the government’s left-wing allies (PCP, Bloco de Esquerda and Os Verdes).