Greek Oil Spill Damage Could Last for Years, WWF Hellas Sues

Photo: Eurokinissi/Giannis Panagopoulos, File

ATHENS – The fallout from a massive spill of oil from a tanker said to be unseaworthy that sank off the island of Salamina, with the fuel fouling the capital city’s beaches, has led the environmental group WWF Hellas to bring a suit “against all those responsible,” which could include government officials and the tanker’s owner.

With maritime analysts saying the effect of the oil spill likely to last for years – the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA government insisted it would be only less a month despite video evidence showing the extent of the damage – WWF’s umbrella suit called it “an environmental crime deserving exemplary punishment.”

Greek authorities said a tanker being used to pump oil from a sunken ship that is polluting the coastline is to be replaced because its certificate of seaworthiness is expiring.

Merchant Marine Deputy Minister Nektarios Santorinios said the swap would not delay the pumping operation for more than a few hours.

The Agia Zoni II tanker sank near Greece’s main port of Piraeus Sept. 10 while anchored in calm seas with 2,200 tons of fuel oil and 370 tons of marine gas oil.

Part of its cargo spilled into waters where dolphins, turtles, seals and a variety of fish and sea birds live. Oil slicks have extended the entire length of the Athens coast.

During a televised cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras defended his government’s handling of the crisis while acknowledging the worry about the extent the extent the pollution even as his own spokesman and the country’s Shipping Minister attempted to minimize the extent.

With other martime experts claiming the ship should not have been allowed to operate and that it hadn’t been inspected, Tsipras called for “deep reforms” to the system under which licenses are issued “so that we can more effectively protect the great wealth of our country that is its natural, including marine, environment,” Kathimerini said.

Tsipras added that his administration’s priority was the “substantial” tackling of the problem, “not making short-term impressions.”

Talking to SKAI TV, Deputy Shipping Minister Nektarios Santorinios said it would take between 20 and 30 days to clean up the oil, far less than independent analysts and environmentalists have estimated.

He denied accusations by the political opposition and environmental groups that authorities were slow to react to the sinking of the tanker in the early hours of September 10, saying that a floating barrier to contain the leakage of oil had been installed within a few hours, but didn’t explain why if that was the case the oil still reached Athens beaches.

Tests were being conducted daily on samples of water taken from different spots along the so-called Athenian Riviera. The results indicate that the pollution is most acute in Aghios Cosmas, Elliniko and Glyfada, popular swimming areas, as well as Salamina.

The cause of the oil spill remained unclear late but the tanker’s owner claimed the leak didn’t come from his vessel but from a Blue Star Patmos passenger ferry that ran aground off the island Ios in late August, and suffered a fuel leak near the port of Piraeus last week. The amount of fuel it lost is believed to be a fraction of that emitted by the Agia Zoni II.

Although Greek authorities announced a ban on swimming along a large chunk of the southern Athens coastline last week, due to the presence of thick black fuel, swimmers started returning to some beaches, swimming in oil.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)