As an oil slick from a sunken tanker spread along the capital’s southern coastline on Thursday, environmentalists and the political opposition criticized the government for its slow response to what some experts described as an environmental disaster.
Shipping Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis insisted that authorities were on top of the situation Thursday, just a few hours after indicating that he would be prepared to resign over the affair if he was asked to. After conducting an inspection of the affected areas aboard a coast guard vessel, the minister claimed that the situation was “significantly improved.” In comments later government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos defended Kouroublis, adding however that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was being briefed on the situation and would judge the minister’s actions.
The political opposition hit out at the government for not reacting sooner to the sinking of the Agia Zoni II tanker, which foundered off Salamina on Sunday. New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who visited beaches affected by the spill, accused the government of “being caught unprepared for a disaster that happened in the port [of Piraeus],” suggesting that a similar incident involving a larger vessel in a remote location would have been beyond the administration’s capabilities to contain.
It remained unclear on Thursday what exactly caused the Agia Zoni II to sink off Salamina. However, the Hellenic Register of Shipping issued a statement saying that the tanker had not been certified as seaworthy.
Meanwhile, the president of the country’s sailors’ union, Giorgos Dalakogiorgos, told Kathimerini that the full crew had not been aboard the tanker when it sank. The two crew members who were aboard the vessel were picked up safely before it went down.