NEWS

Agia Zoni oil spill was an accident waiting to happen, experts say

TAGS: Environment, Health

The environmental disaster caused by an oil spill that reached the shores of Athens this week was an accident waiting to happen, according to maritime experts. 

The Agia Zoni II tanker sunk in the Saronic Gulf near the island of Salamina on Sunday and experts have slammed relevant authorities tasked with supervision of the ship’s seaworthiness.

The 45-year-old tanker, they say, should not have been allowed to conduct high-risk operations such as bunkering as it was too old, and had not undergone proper inspections by relevant maritime experts. 

The Agia Zoni II went down in mild weather while at anchor with a cargo of 2,500 tons of fuel that leaked and spread to the coasts of Salamina and southern Athens, covering dozens of kilometers of coastline in foul-smelling gunk. 

Regardless of the causes of the sinking, the ship should not have been at sea, experts insisted on Friday. 

According to the Equasis database, the reputable Norwegian register DNV-GL had identified 10 serious infringements by the Agia Zoni in 2008. 

This prompted its owner to withdraw it from the Norwegian register and place it under the Greek legal framework, which stipulated that its seaworthiness would be monitored by Shipping Ministry inspectors.

The certification of seaworthiness granted by Greek inspectors expired in July of this year and its owner – a group of companies linked to the Kountouris family – received a two-month extension. 

However, experts say the Greek state has neither the workforce nor the means to conduct specialized checks on old ships of this type.

According to a statement on Thursday by the maritime workers’ union PEMEN, the ship was “extremely dangerous to safe navigation.”

“The engine room where it started taking on water had been roughly patched up in order to close gaping holes,” PEMEN claimed.

Furthermore, the Hellenic Register of Shipping announced on Thursday that the tanker had not been inspected and does not have any certificates issued by the Hellenic Register of Shipping.

The delayed response to contain the oil spill plunged the government into a crisis, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chairing a meeting with the leadership of the Shipping Ministry on Friday.

Tsipras ordered the retraction of seaworthiness certifications that have received extensions and the investigation of all parties involved in the affair.

He also ordered the transfer of the authority to grant seaworthiness certificates to ship registers as well as the deployment of more vessels to clean up the pollution.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Friday banned swimming on a 20-kilometer strip stretching from Piraeus to Glyfada on the southern coast of Athens.

A swimming ban was also enforced on the nearby island of Salamina.

The ban, the Health Ministry said, will be lifted once the area is cleaned up.

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