Let me tell you a story about humans doing what humans do, told from the calm harbour at Muxia.
Once upon a time, around this time of year, off the coast of Muxia, there was a boat called The Prestige. The Prestige was an oil tanker. She was carrying 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. She had loaded up in St Petersburg. Her two sister ships, Alexandros and Centaur had both been found unfit for service. Somehow this little ship had avoided inspection. Maybe bribes?
She was flying a Greek flag, registered in the Bahamas and owned by a company in Liberia – a company that existed purely to own her. Hard to pin down who actually owned her. A previous captain had raised concerns about structural safety to whoever they were, and had lost his job. The current captain was just offshore of where I am now with his unseaworthy boat full of oil. It was 13th November 2002. There was a storm in these waters.
There was a large bang.
A 50 foot hole opened up in the side of this unstable vessel and oil started leaking out. The engine blew out and she was stranded, bleeding oil into the sea. The captain was quick to respond. “This boat is full of oil. We need to get it into harbor so we can contain the spill.” he said. “Not on our territory,” responded clever old Spain, sending out tugs to pull it out of their waters and stop the bad thing from existing. “Oh no you don’t,” said France, threatening international action if the bad thing came into their sight “We should get it into harbor,” said the captain, quietly… “so it can be contained.”
Portugal sent the navy, but not to help. To make sure the bad thing didn’t come into Portuguese waters. Meanwhile whole days were passing with a damaged bleeding boat full of oil getting towed around. The hole was growing. “Maybe we should … get it into harbour?” tried the captain hopefully. The Spanish tugs pulled it around Spanish waters, up and down, anywhere but harbour, clueless headless chickens, ignoring the captain who knew his ship was breaking up. The crew was evacuated. Eventually, inevitably, excruciatingly it split in two on November 19th, after almost a week. In open water off the Galician coast. 77,000 tonnes of oil now in a shipwreck because nobody wanted responsibility.
The boat didn’t really legally belong to anyone or their lawyers were too good. This part of the Galician coast is terrifically important for fishing. Suddenly the Spanish had to suspend all fishing in the area for six months because, on the coast of death, the water was lethal. Appropriate.
The only way to cope with a spill that big is manpower. It is the single worst (preventable) environmental disaster to hit Spain. In order to clean the beaches and the water they needed people. People to wash the birds, people to take up the spills, people to contain the floating oil.
Muxia is beautiful, and it’s not far on foot from Santiago. It’s also only a long day’s walk from Finisterre. Even back then there were a fair few pilgrims finishing their journey and wondering what the hell to do next, like I have been. Knowing how I felt at the end of my journey, a couple of weeks cleaning birds would’ve been right up my street. Loads of pilgrims found out about it and made a mission to Muxia. They added their hands to a cleanup effort that, combined with the fishing ban, stopped the coast of death from becoming the dead coast. The fishing ban actually gave time for stocks to replenish. A thing we never do.
Because of that gesture by those pilgrims all that time ago, Muxia is still an official pilgrimage destination. The captain got a suspended sentence for disobedience. Nobody else copped it but nature and the insurance company. But now pilgrims finish here. And I’m done walking at last in this beautiful town.
There is already Catholic myth here, of the slightly less credible type. Saint James was sad, trying to convert the heathens but they believed in other stuff, the naughties. He sat like Alfred needing encouragement. Rather than a spider, he ended up getting the Virgin Mary in a stone boat, coming to shore here to cheerlead for him. She used the same magic stone boat that definitely took his body back to Santiago from Jerusalem so quickly after his death
I’m off to check out Mary’s Stone Boat in the sunset. Apparently she left it here and now it’s just a stone that looks like a boat! You couldn’t make it up…