It seems there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the Agia Zoni II shipwreck off Salamina, with the exact causes that led to the tanker sinking and spewing fuel oil into the Saronic Gulf yet to be pinpointed.
There is a swirl of rumors and speculation that is aimed at diverting attention and leading to the investigation being shelved. However, it is difficult to understand how a prosecutor has not intervened after there was a public claim that the real owner of the load that the ship was carrying was not Fos Petroleum – owned by Theodoros Kountouris – the company that operated the vessel.
The Panhellenic Union of Merchant Seamen (PENEN) has gone on record with the claim that its representatives were informed during a meeting with top officials from the Shipping Ministry that the fuel being carried by Agia Zoni II, part of which was collected from the Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) refineries, was not paid for by Kountouris even though the invoices were made out to his company.
PENEN alleges that Shipping Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis knows that someone else is funding Kountouris’s company, heightening suspicion that fuel smuggling is involved. “We get dozens of claims about businessmen and shipping tycoons who use third parties so they can remain in the shadows while this illegal and third-world business activity goes on,” said PENEN president Antonis Dalakogiorgos.
Market sources say that just the suspicion that the ship’s load did not belong to Kountouris, but to a third party should have been enough to prompt action by the justice system as such practices are synonymous with money laundering, according to the current legislation.
Sources in the shipping industry who have knowledge of how fuel smuggling rings operate go as far as saying that the case bears similarities to the way that the members of the November 17 terrorist group were uncovered – in other words, when an accident (in the case of the urban guerrillas it was a bomb going off in the hands of one of the group’s members) prompted the unraveling. The sources add that the sinking of the Agia Zoni II and the evidence that could be gathered could provide a unique opportunity for an in-depth investigation into how a group of people and companies have been running the shipping fuel market for many years. It is alleged that even figures that seem to be beyond suspicion are involved.
In the meantime, developments suggest that a sizable portion of the market related to the refueling of ships continues to operate outside the confines of the law. The coast guard said last week that a check on the Menalon tanker revealed that it did not have the minimum crew necessary. There were only two crew members on board (as was the case with the Agia Zoni II when it sank) even though the ship was carrying almost 3.3 tons of fuel oil.