Toxic substances other than just oil have flooded the Greek environment in dramatic fashion in the 12 days since the sinking of the small, elderly product tanker Agia Zoni II. The environmental disaster has quickly become a political hot potato with the government found severely lacking in its maritime preparedness.
The 45-year-old Agia Zoni II sank in the Saronic Gulf to the south of the Greek capital 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 Salamis as well as along the so-called Athens Riviera.
The accident has 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.
The slow response by the Greek government was made clear by the European Commission which has revealed that a request by Greek authorities to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) was lodged three full days after the Agia Zoni II sank off Salamina island.
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 and are due in court in Piraeus today.
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.