MADRID -- Four people went on trial Tuesday for their role in the sinking of an oil tanker in Spain's northwestern coast in 2002, triggering one of Europe's biggest environmental catastrophes.
The defendants include the ship's Greek captain Apostolos Mangouras, 77, his first officer and the former director general of Spain's Merchant Marine. Another ship officer is being tried in absentia because his whereabouts are not known.
The four are charged with crimes against the environment and could face between four and 12 years in jail.
The ship, the 26-year-old Prestige tanker, spewed most of its 77,000 metric tons (20.5 million gallons or 77.6 million liters) of fuel oil, unleashing un ecological nightmare for the region of Galicia, one of the world's richest fishing grounds. The ship had run into problems during a storm and the government ordered it out to sea where it sank six days later. The Prestige's gooey, black toxic substance was washed ashore and spread along the northern coast to southwestern France. Fishing was banned in much of Galicia for several months.
The trial is taking place in the northwestern city of A Coruna.
Also charged with civil responsibility in the case are The London Steam-Ship Owners Mutual Insurance Association Limited, The International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund and the ship's owner, Liberia-based Mare Shipping Inc.
The case is expected to last eight months.