Backgrounder: The Tragedy of Greek Tanker Irenes Serenade



At the Navarino Bay in the southwestern Peloponnese, lies on the bottom of the sea the shipwreck of the Greek tanker Irenes Serenade, which caused one of the major oil spill accidents in Greek waters, ranking within the top 10 in the world.

The Greek tanker Irenes Serenade loaded with a cargo of 102,660 tonnes of Iraqi crude oil left from Syria with destination the port of Trieste in northeastern Italy.

As the port of Pylos is a common place for tankers to refuel, the tanker stopped in Navarino Bay.

On February 23, 1980, whilst at anchor at the bunkering location, explosions in the forecastle erupted and set the cargo alight.

After the blast, the captain ordered the second officer to gather the whole crew in the stern of the boat.  As he was counting, he realized that two members were missing, who were at the bow of the tanker.

Defying the danger, a local fisherman, Velissarios Karavias, who saw the explosion from the harbor of Pylos, approached the tanker with his boat to save the lives of the seamen.  All but two crew members were rescued.

An oil slick two miles long by half a mile wide spread from the vessel and both the tanker and the surrounding water burned for 14 hours until the following morning when the tanker sank off Pylos harbor in 47 meters’ depth.

Fishing gear on the jetty was destroyed in the fire, and the hillside of Sfakteria island, which functions as a giant breakwater for the bay’s inner lagoon, was scorched to a height of 30 meters.  The bunkering installation on the island was also damaged due to the fire.

It was estimated that almost 80,000 tonnes were lost into the sea (35,000 tonnes spewed out into the sea, 40,000 tonnes being burnt and 25,000 tonnes having evaporated).

Though there were fears for a large-scale environmental crisis in Navarino bay, the enormous efforts of local authorities along with the ship-owners and the coast guard mobilization limited the damage.

A diving survey day after the sinking revealed that no cargo remained except in isolated pockets and as residues within the fabric of the wreck.

According to experts, little pollution was reported in the bay because the wind had carried the majority of the oil away from the coastline.

During aerial surveillance two days after the vessel sank, experts observed in the open sea a considerable amount of oil, with an estimated volume of 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes.

For the first six weeks after the incident, 17 vessels and 400 people worked to clean up.  A small Coast Guard team remained to deal with the small amounts of oil still being released into the bay.

Clean-up activities focused on removing oil from the water surface close to the sunken wreck, rocky shorelines accessible only from the sea and sandy beaches with road access. Some tugs used chemicals to disperse the slick.

To restrict the spread of surfacing oil,authorities used protective booms.

On sandy beaches, oil was collected with shovels into plastic bags or oil drums.  Possible damage to the tourist industry might have resulted in economic losses, and that was the reason for amenity beaches and other recreational areas, to become prioritized in the clean-up operations.

Due to the continuous seepage of oil from the wreck, the Greek government decided to use explosives on the wreck to liberate trapped oil a year after the incident.  Contamination of shorelines was negligible.

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Source: Xinhua