Fuel cleanup resumes amid fears of fresh leak from sunken tanker


A ship resumed the process of pumping out the residual fuel from the sunken oil tanker Agia Zoni II off Salamina over the weekend amid fears that the wreck could leak more oil into the Saronic Gulf.

As authorities continued with their efforts to clean up hundreds of tons of oil that have spread along the Athens coastline since the Agia Zoni II sank on September 10, the Siros tanker started pumping fuel out of the sunken wreck early on Saturday.

Another vessel, the Aegean Breeze 1, which had also been dispatched to the wreck site, remained on standby.

The two ships were sent to the site in the middle of last week after the Lassaia cargo vessel, the first to start pumping out fuel from the Agia Zoni II, was obliged to stop when it emerged that its security certification had expired.

Early last week the captain and first engineer of the Lassaia 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 pair were to face trial for fuel smuggling on Thursday but proceedings were put off until Friday due to an absence of the required reports and prosecution witnesses. Then on Friday, the trial was postponed until September 28, as speculation about the activities of fuel smuggling rackets in Greece swirled.

In comments to reporters last Friday, the owner of the Agia Zoni II, Theodoros Kountouris, said he had provided prosecutors with evidence that his company is being targeted. Kountouris, who has repeatedly insisted 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 make progress in containing the spread of the oil spill along the Athens coastline, marine experts have warned that an expected worsening in weather conditions over the coming days could lead to the displacement of the Agia Zoni wreck, which still contains some 700 cubic meters of oil, and another possible leak.