Greek authorities finally contain spill off Athens

Greece’s Shipping Ministry said yesterday that the marine pollution caused by an oil spill from a tanker that sank off the coast of Salamina near the capital last month has been largely contained.

The ministry said that there is no more “surface pollution” in the area of Salamina island following what has been a very damaging maritime incident both environmentally and politically.

The elderly product tanker Agia Zoni II sank on September 10 in the Saronic Gulf to the south of Athens while carrying 2,200 tons of fuel oil and 370 metric tons of marine gas oil. Although a boom was eventually deployed and divers managed to patch up the cargo hold, the response was not quick enough to staunch thousands of litres of fuel washing up on the nearby island of Salamina as well as along the so-called Athens Riviera.

The accident provoked widespread anger among locals and opposition politicians at the paucity of oil spill clean-up infrastructure on hand in Greece with some calling for the head of Panagiotis Kouroumnlis, the merchant marine minister.

Adding fuel to the fire, a ship sent to pump out the sunken ship’s tanks has been accused of smuggling fuel. The Lassea was found to be carrying a sizeable amount of undocumented petroleum in its ballast tanks. The Lassea, like the Agia Zoni II, had expired government certificates of seaworthiness. The ship and its captain and chief engineer have been arrested.

The shipping ministry said yesterday the area of Piraiki, near Piraeus, has also been thoroughly cleaned and shows no signs of marine pollution.

On the beaches of Alimos, “the situation is improving significantly on a daily basis,” the statement said, adding that “intensive cleanup work” continued on Wednesday there and in the areas of Elliniko, Aghios Cosmas and Glyfada.

The Greek government, stung by growing criticism, has said it will carry out urgent inspections of small Greek-flagged coastal tankers. A local seafarer’s union has demanded Athens goes a step further and remove very old or poorly maintained tonnage from the local fleet of small product tankers and bunkering vessels.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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