NEWS

Sunken tanker reveals signs of fuel smuggling

Speculation intensified on Wednesday about the activities of fuel smuggling rackets in Greece following the arrest of the captain and first engineer of a vessel helping to clean up the oil spill from the sunken Agia Zoni II tanker. 

The unnamed crew members of the Lassaia vessel were taken into custody after an inspection by customs and coast guard authorities turned up significant quantities of fuel in the ship’s hold that was not legally accounted for.

The ship, which was part of the fleet pumping fuel from the sunken Agia Zoni II, has been seized as part of an investigation launched into the provenance of its cargo.

Thodoros Kountouris, the owner of the Agia Zoni, also arranged for the Lassaia to be used in the transfer of 1,550 cubic meters of oil, Kathimerini understands.

Kountouris, who insists that the Agia Zoni is not solely responsible for the oil spill, also claims to be a victim of certain interests that had been eyeing his vessel’s cargo.

Meanwhile, as authorities continued their efforts to curb the environmental damage caused by the oil spill last week, government and opposition officials clashed in Parliament over the responsibility for the pollution.

In a vehement exchange, conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis condemned Shipping Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis for failing to cut short a trip to London until three days after the sinking of the Agia Zoni II.

“What I am accusing you of is underestimating the problem,” Mitsotakis said, and called on the minister to quit. Kouroublis blamed the slow response on the Hellenic Coast Guard and declared, “I will never resign,” prompting cries of protest from the opposition benches in the House.

Mitsotakis questioned why the government failed to request assistance from the European Commission earlier, citing a press release from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) confirming it had not been contacted until September 13. The tanker went down off the coast of Salamina in the early hours of September 10. 

Responding to the accusations, Kouroublis insisted that he had contacted EMSA and asked for support but had been told that a vessel could not be immediately dispatched.

A spokeswoman for EMSA, however, told Skai that the organization has 16 ships on standby to respond to such oil spills.

In his comments in Parliament, Kouroublis said the government’s response to the spill will be judged by the results of the cleanup, which should be apparent in the next 30 to 40 days. “I assure you that the effort we are undertaking is enormous,” he said, noting that critics had not offered alternative suggestions. 

Mayors representing coastal areas that have been affected by the oil spillage also attended the parliamentary session.

Alimos Mayor Andreas Kondylis called for the cleanup process to be accelerated, saying local residents were “despondent and angry.”

His counterpart for Vari, Voula and Vouliagmeni, Grigoris Konstantellos, said that his municipal authority had spent 280,000 euros on special barriers to curb the spread of the oil slick.

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