Spain 20 Nov 2002: MADRID, Spain 14 Nov

Emergency workers are still trying to get a stricken tanker leaking oil away from the largely unspoiled northwest Spanish coastline and avert an ecological disaster.

The Bahamas-flagged Prestige, carrying 77,000 tonnes of oil and listing sharply in the Atlantic Ocean, appeared to have a crack in one of its oil tanks, a spokesman at the Emergency Coordination Centre in La Coruna.

"It looks as if one of the tanks has emptied itself...They usually hold around 3,000 tonnes," the spokesman told Reuters on Thursday.

Helicopter teams rescued 24 of the 27 crew members on Wednesday while the captain and two other officers remained on board to help with salvage efforts.

Sea rescue services battled all night in gale-force winds to tow the tanker, which ran into trouble in a force eight gale on Wednesday, away from the coast.

Officials aim to tow the vessel to deep waters so that if it broke up it would pose less of a threat to the Galician coastline, an important fishing area, Reuters reported. But the head of the sea rescue service, Francisco Javier Garate, told national radio that bad weather and inability to control the Prestige had repeatedly stymied these efforts.

"We have been working with four boats all night to try to tow the tanker, to try to attach towing cables to it .The ship has continued to drift all night at the mercy of the wind," he said, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Rescue workers had succeeded in getting a line aboard the tanker in gale force winds after 16 failed attempts, a government official told Reuters. Spanish national radio reported an eight-kilometre oil slick was visible and the ship was listing 50 degrees