Bid to clean up Greek tanker oil spillage is beset by problems


As efforts continued on Monday to clean up hundreds of tons of fuel which leaked from the sunken Agia Zoni II tanker last weekend, the conservation group WWF Hellas lodged legal action against “all those responsible” for what it described as “an environmental crime deserving exemplary punishment.”

Meanwhile, although government officials promised that the oil will have been cleaned up within a month, experts have been warning that the repercussions of the spill will last for years.

During a televised cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras defended his government’s handling of the crisis while also acknowledging citizens’ concerns about the extent and impact of the pollution.

He underlined the need for “deep reforms” to the system under which licenses are issued deeming vessels to be seaworthy “so that we can more effectively protect the great wealth of our country that is its natural, including marine, environment.”

Tsipras added that his administration’s priority was the “substantial” tackling of the problem, “not making short-term impressions.”

In comments to Skai TV earlier on Monday, Deputy Shipping Minister Nektarios Santorinios said it would take between 20 and 30 days to clean up the oil.

He denied accusations by the political opposition and environmental groups that authorities were slow to react to the sinking of the tanker near Salamina in the early hours of September 10, saying that a floating barrier to contain the leakage of oil had been installed within a few hours.

Tests are being conducted daily on samples of water taken from different spots along the so-called Athenian Riviera. The results indicate that the pollution is most acute in Aghios Cosmas, Elliniko and Glyfada, as well as Salamina, where the tanker sank.

A new problem arose on Monday as it emerged that the Lassea tanker, into which the remaining oil in the sunken Agia Zoni II is being transferred, has security certificates which expire today.

It remained unclear whether the 42-year-old vessel would be granted a temporary extension for the fuel transfer to be completed or whether another vessel would take over.

The cause of the oil spill remained unclear late on Monday.

The owner of the Agia Zoni II has blamed another vessel – the Blue Star Patmos passenger ferry – for the pollution. The ferry, which ran aground off Ios in late August, suffered a fuel leak near the port of Piraeus last week. The amount of fuel it lost is believed to be a fraction of that emitted by the Agia Zoni II.

Although Greek authorities announced a ban on swimming along a large chunk of the southern Athens coastline last week, due to the presence of thick black fuel, swimmers have started returning to some beaches.