Back in the 1970s, tanker owner Aristotle Onassis was the richest man in the world, and as infamous a personification of big capital as Bill Gates is today. Many other shipowners wanted a slice of his action, and the world is now living with the results, often in the form of beaches and seas covered with thick black sludge.
The Prestige--which broke up off the north west coast of Spain last month--was just one of many vessels mass produced in Japan during the spectacular over-ordering seen at the time. So was the Erika, which sank off the coast of Britanny in late 1999, losing 30,000 tonnes of oil in the process. So was the Braer, cause of a devastating 85,000 tonne spill off the Shetland Islands in 1993. So was the Aegean Sea, which grounded in almost the same Spanish waters as Prestige a decade ago, gushing out 74,000 tonnes of crude.