Shipping Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis should have already resigned “if he had any dignity” over the oil spill that has shut down dozens of beaches in the Saronic Gulf and caused incalculable environmental damage, opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in Parliament on Wednesday.
Referring to the Agia Zoni II tanker oil spill, an incident that is becoming a growing headache for the left-led government as experts warn of its lasting impact, the conservative chief accused the administration of delays and oversights that have led to one of the biggest environmental disasters to hit the Greek capital in decades.
“What I am accusing you of is underestimating the problem,” Mitsotakis said, addressing Kouroublis, who was away on a trip to London at the time of the tanker’s sinking and did not return until two days later.
The opposition leader also 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 applied to until September 13, when the tanker went down in the early hours of September 10.
“On 13 September, the Greek authorities requested the mobilization of the Aktea OSRV, an oil spill response vessel contracted by EMSA from the Greek company, Environmental Protection Engineering (EPE), and operating in the Aegean Sea. Within a few hours, during the night, the ship ceased its commercial activities and prepared for pollution response operations,” the agency said in a press release published on the same day. “The vessel has been on site since 11 a.m. local time, 13 September, and is recovering the oil leaking out of the wreck under the command of the Greek authorities.”
Mitsotakis also accused the government of failing to forewarn the mayors of the municipalities on Athens’s southern coast and on the island of Salamina that were hit by the spill.
Responding to the accusations, Kouroublis said that the government’s response will be judged by its results, which should be apparent in the next 30 to 40 days when the oil spill is completely cleared up.
“We are not trying to hide anything,” he said, inviting Mitsotakis to the ministry’s operations center “to see the dispatches for himself.”