Agia Zoni oil spill was an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen

Ex­perts: Sunken tanker was not sea­wor­thy

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

The en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter caused by an oil spill that reached the shores of Athens this week was an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen, ac­cord­ing to mar­itime ex­perts.

The Agia Zoni II tanker sunk in the Sa­ronic Gulf near the is­land of Salam­ina on Sun­day and ex­perts have slammed rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties tasked with su­per­vi­sion of the ship’s sea­wor­thi­ness.

The 45-year-old tanker, they say, should not have been al­lowed to con­duct high-risk op­er­a­tions such as bunker­ing as it was too old, and had not un­der­gone proper in­spec­tions by rel­e­vant mar­itime ex­perts.

The Agia Zoni II went down in mild weather while at an­chor with a cargo of 2,500 tons of fuel that leaked and spread to the coasts of Salam­ina and south­ern Athens, cov­er­ing dozens of kilo­me­ters of coast­line in foul-smelling gunk.

Re­gard­less of the causes of the sink­ing, the ship should not have been at sea, ex­perts in­sisted yes­ter­day.

Ac­cord­ing to the Equa­sis data­base, the rep­utable Nor­we­gian regis­ter DNV-GL had iden­ti­fied 10 se­ri­ous in­fringe­ments by the Agia Zoni in 2008.

This prompted its owner to with­draw it from the Nor­we­gian regis­ter and place it un­der the Greek le­gal frame­work, which stip­u­lated that its sea­wor­thi­ness would be mon­i­tored by Ship­ping Min­istry in­spec­tors.

The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of sea­wor­thi­ness granted by Greek in­spec­tors ex­pired in July of this year and its owner – a group of com­pa­nies linked to the Koun­touris fam­ily – re­ceived a twom­onth ex­ten­sion.

How­ever, ex­perts say the Greek state has nei­ther the work­force nor the means to con­duct spe­cial­ized checks on old ships of this type.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment on Thurs­day by the mar­itime work­ers’ union PEMEN, the ship was “ex­tremely dan­ger­ous to safe nav­i­ga­tion.”

“The en­gine room where it started tak­ing on wa­ter had been roughly patched up in or­der to close gap­ing holes,” PEMEN claimed.

Fur­ther­more, the Hel­lenic Regis­ter of Ship­ping an­nounced on Thurs­day that the tanker had not been in­spected and does not have any cer­tifi­cates is­sued by the Hel­lenic Regis­ter of Ship­ping.

The de­layed re­sponse to con­tain the oil spill plunged the gov­ern­ment into a cri­sis, with Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras chair­ing a meet­ing with the lead­er­ship of the Ship­ping Min­istry yes­ter­day.

Tsipras or­dered the re­trac­tion of sea­wor­thi­ness cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that have re­ceived ex­ten­sions and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of all par­ties in­volved in the af­fair. He also or­dered the trans­fer of the author­ity to grant sea­wor­thi­ness cer­tifi­cates to ship reg­is­ters as well as the de­ploy­ment of more ves­sels to clean up the pol­lu­tion. Mean­while, the Health Min­istry yes­ter­day banned swim­ming on a 20-kilo­me­ter strip stretch­ing from Pi­raeus to Gly­fada on the south­ern coast of Athens. A swim­ming ban was also en­forced on the nearby is­land of Salam­ina. The ban, the Health Min­istry said, will be lifted once the area is cleaned up.

Mem­bers of Green­peace re­move bags of stones and sand cov­ered with oil from a beach near Athens yes­ter­day. Au­thor­i­ties have banned swim­ming along a 20-kilo­me­ter stretch from Pi­raeus to Gly­fada as a cleanup gets un­der way.

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