Pakistanis free tanker crew

KARACHI (AFP) – Pakistani authorities have set free the crew of a sunken Greek-managed tanker that caused a huge oil spill in the coastal waters off Karachi, but ordered them not to leave the country until a court hands down its verdict on the case, a lawyer said yesterday. A Pakistani court allowed the crew – four Greeks and three Filipinos from the MV Tasman Spirit – to post bail early last week. The Greek national heading salvage operations has been barred from leaving Pakistan as well. «My clients, the crew of the ship, have been released after fulfilling procedural requirements,» defense lawyer M. Ilyas Khan told AFP, «but they are not allowed to leave Pakistan till the verdict of the case comes up.» A court hearing on the crew’s case has been set for Thursday. The seamen face criminal charges for negligence in navigation and endangering lives. They were not put in jail but confined to hospital and later their hotel rooms, the lawyer said, adding that now they can move freely. Pakistani authorities have said they will claim 1 billion dollars in damages from the tanker’s Greek managers, Polembros Shipping. But the Greek managers blame the Karachi port’s pilot for the accident. The oil spill occurred in a rich tropical marine ecosystem, home to extensive mangrove forests, Green and Olive Ridley sea turtles, dolphins, porpoises, beaked whales and several species of lizards and sea snakes. The MV Tasman Spirit broke apart on August 14 outside the Arabian Sea port, around a fortnight after running aground in a shallow channel, leaking 28,000 tons of crude oil. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou last week contacted his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri to demand the immediate release of the Greek crew.