Greek beaches closed af­ter mas­sive spill

The Daily Observer - - WORLD NEWS - Agia Zoni II The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Greek au­thor­i­ties banned swim­ming along a long line of pop­u­lar Athens beaches on Fri­day fol­low­ing ex­ten­sive sea pol­lu­tion from the sink­ing of a small oil tanker five days ago, which prompted a large con­tain­ment and cleanup op­er­a­tion.

The swim­ming ban cov­ers much of a 20-km stretch from Greece’s main port of Pi­raeus to Gly­fada, far­ther south, as well as part of the is­land of Salam­ina. A Health Min­istry state­ment said the pro­hi­bi­tion would last un­til the beaches have been cleaned.

Much of the area has been con­tam­i­nated by slicks of heavy fuel oil from the tanker, which sank Sun­day while an­chored in calm seas off Salam­ina, close to Pi­raeus.

An Athens prose­cu­tor filed crim­i­nal charges Fri­day against the shipown­ing com­pany and the crew for al­leged breaches of en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion. If proved in court, the charges carry a min­i­mum five-year prison sen­tence.

An in­ves­ti­gat­ing judge will also ex­am­ine whether state agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for ad­dress­ing the pol­lu­tion did their job prop­erly, fol­low­ing com­plaints that the slick should have been con­tained be­fore it trav­elled far from the wreck.

In a re­port to ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties Fri­day, the may­ors of Gly­fada and neigh­bour­ing Alimos said the spill caused “in­cal­cu­la­ble dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment” and harmed lo­cal ho­tels, restau­rants and fish­er­men.

“This year, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple vis­ited Gly­fada’s beaches, be­cause for the first time one of our beaches re­ceived an award for the ex­cep­tional qual­ity of its wa­ters,” the re­port said. “Now, how­ever, this dis­tinc­tion is use­less.”

The gov­ern­ment in­sists it did all it could to fight the pol­lu­tion, ar­gu­ing that the sit­u­a­tion is im­prov­ing from day to day.

The tanker, which Greece’s Mer­chant Marine Min­istry says sank in 15 min­utes, was car­ry­ing 2,000 tonnes of fuel oil and 335 tonnes of marine gas oil. It is un­clear how much fuel es­caped, be­fore divers sealed the wreck, into wa­ters that host dol­phins, tur­tles, and a va­ri­ety of fish and sea birds.

Float­ing booms have been set up at var­i­ous points along the coast of Athens, while about 20 ves­sels are tak­ing part in the clean-up op­er­a­tion.

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