An oil spill has prompted tricky questions for the Greek central government after tonnes of oil from a sunken tanker turned 40km of Athens’ beaches black and prevented bathers and fishermen from using the coastal waters.
Greece’s shipping minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis has come under fire after the European Commission confirmed his ministry had not lodged a request for assistance with its European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) until three days after the 3,200 dwt Agia Zoni II sank in the early morning hours of 10 September. Kouroumblis is reported to have claimed he filed a request to the group immediately.
Details regarding what caused the tanker to founder remain unclear, and the Greek goverenment’s response to the incident has been criticzed by opposition leaders as slow, a claim Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denied during televised comments to his cabinet ministers.
The International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds), which provides compensation to those who have been financially impacted by tanker-related oil spills said the government response was “swift” and said they are working with the government and other entities to create an action plan for forthcoming claims.
Spokesman Bill Lines told Tanker Shipping and Trade “The response to the pollution by the authorities was swift and within hours, despite the incident happening in the early hours of the morning. We are receiving regular updates on the clean-up operation and will continue to monitor progress carefully. Our representatives have recently visited the affected areas and are working with experts to assess the damage caused by the pollution from the tanker Agia Zoni II.”
“The IOPC Funds is now working with all the relevant parties to create a detailed plan of action to deal with claims for financial compensation arising from this incident, based on our experience of ensuring that governments, local authorities, businesses and individuals with admissible claims are compensated for financial losses associated with oil tanker pollution incidents.“
The Greek government has announced a number of regulatory efforts in response to the event, promising urgent inspections of small, coastal Greek-flagged fuel tankers like the Agia Zoni II and reportedly planning to move the Hellenic Coast Guard and ship inspectorate service from the purview of the shipping ministry to that of the ministry for interior affairs.
Last week, Greece’s deputy shipping minister Nektarios Santorinios took to national television to refute an opposition party’s claims that the Greek Shipping Ministry could have been more effective in its response to the sunken tanker.
According to Mr Santorinios, the 45-year-old Agia Zoni II reportedly began taking on water at 0230 on 10 September and had sunk by 0410 in calm conditions. Mr Santorinios told Skai TV that a barrier to prevent the spread of oil was in place by 0940 the same morning, by which time a reported 300 tonnes of the ship’s more than 2,800 tonnes of oil had escaped into the wider marine environment.
Mr Santorinios said Hellenic Coast Guard vessels arrived on the scene as Agia Zoni II was foundering but were unable to make a close approach due to the water turbulence created by the ill-fated vessel. Just two of the tanker’s 11 crew were on board at the time of the incident, the captain and chief engineer. Both men were charged with negligence but were freed on bail.
The not-for-profit International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF), which promotes effective responses to marine oil and chemical spills, went to the scene to monitor activities. The group were unwilling to comment on the response to the Agia Zoni II spill, but said the industry as a whole had make marked improvements in environmental protection over the last few decades.
Spokesman Mark Whitttington told Tanker Shipping and Trade “The ITOPF are on site and playing a key role. We are working alongside the IOPC funds, the Greek government, Hellenic Coast Guard, salvers, commercial contractors and others to monitor and mitigate the effects of the spill.”
In further complications, on 19 September, the Greek shipping ministry was forced to remove a tanker working to recover fuel from the sunken vessel because the tanker’s seaworthiness certificate had expired. The government had previously ordered a ban on extending seaworthiness certificates when it came to light that Agia Zoni II was operating on an extended certificate when it sank on 10 September. Two days after the sinking, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras transferred the authority to grant seaworthiness certificates from the shipping ministry to classification societies.
Separately, the captain and first engineer of another ship aiding in pumping fuel from Agia Zoni II were reportedly arrested for fuel smuggling 20 September according to Greek-based news service ANA-MPA. The unnamed pair were reportedly detained after a customs and coast guard inspection found quantities of undeclared fuel in the hold of their vessel.
Pumping operations were expected to last for 15 to 20 days, according to Greek officials. Mr Santorinios gave a timeline of 20 to 30 days for most of the oil to be cleaned from the water and coastline around the island of Salamina, where the Agia Zoni II sank, and all of Athens’ coast, which has also been affected by the spill.
The spill has closed beaches throughout the Argo-Saronic gulf, and experts have warned the impacts of the event could last for years. The Guardian reported Greek officials who contradicted the government timeframe for remediating the spill, saying clean-up efforts could last several months, with the mayor of Athens suburb Glyfada reporting 28 tonnes of oil removed from a single beach.
On 18 September, the World Wildlife Fund filed a lawsuit in Athens’ port city, Piraeus, against “anyone found responsible” for the spill, in advance of any formal identification of a specific party to be held legally accountable for the incident.
There have also been unconfirmed reports of a small cargo ship sinking in the same area on 27 September, with authorities reportedly mobilising an immediate response. The video animation was supplied by Genscape’s Vesseltracker software.
Disclaimer: This video is intended for informational purpose only. This may not be construed as a news item or advice of any sort. Please consult the experts in that field for the authenticity of the presentations.
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Source: vesseltracker Germany on YouTube, Tanker Shipping