Blame game in Greece as oil spill spreads in Athens' Saronic gulf

ATHENS: Greek officials traded accusations Wednesday after an oil spill from a sunken tanker drifted to other parts of the Saronic Gulf in Athens.

The 45-year-old vessel Agia Zoni II sank on Sunday near the island of Salamis while under anchor. The cause is still unknown.

"This is a major environmental disaster," said Salamis mayor Isidora Nannou-Papathanassiou, whose island is suffering the brunt of the damage.

Government officials were holding an emergency meeting at the shipping ministry after the slick washed ashore near Piraeus, the country's biggest port.

By Wednesday afternoon, oil pollution was reported in Agios Kosmas, a residential coastal area several kilometres from where the tanker sank.

"Clearly the danger (of pollution) was not estimated correctly," Nannou-Papathanassiou told state television ERT. "The currents moved the oil spill."

The Greek-flagged tanker was carrying around 2,500 tonnes of fuel, some of which quickly covered beaches and coves on the southeastern side of Salami, opposite Athens and Piraeus.

A 60-person crew worked on the Piraeus coast to clean up the spill. An anti-pollution tanker was due to be deployed later Wednesday, state news agency ANA said.

'Lost valuable time'

Merchant Marine Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis insisted on Tuesday that that the ship's hull had been secured against further leakage.

"There is no risk of further seepage. The oil leaked as the ship was sinking. All necessary steps have been taken," Kouroublis, who is attending a conference in London, told Real FM radio.

The main opposition party New Democracy said the authorities had "lost valuable time" in containing the spill.

Panagiotis Hatziperos, deputy regional governor of the Saronic island group which includes Salamis, agreed.

"The (seriousness of the) incident was not correctly identified at first," Hatziperos told public broadcaster ERT, blaming the merchant marine ministry and the coastguard for the inadequate response.

"I have asked the owners of the ship to put six times more resources in the area," he said.

The Salamis mayor said that immediately after the incident, "the main effort was concentrated on sealing the ship's hold and discovering people possibly trapped inside".

'Avoid the area'

The only people on board at the time, the tanker's captain and chief engineer, were charged with negligence and released pending trial.

The ship's owners said the tanker was fully seaworthy and all its documentation was in order.

Greek authorities are still unable to say how much fuel remains on board. Efforts to drain the tanker are to begin later on Wednesday.

The coastguard said barriers had been erected to contain the spill and tanker trucks were being used to collect the oil.

Local officials said fishermen had been told to avoid the area. Coastal businesses in the area have also shut down, the Salamis mayor said.

She added that her office planned to submit lawsuits on behalf of coastal restaurants losing business due to the spill.

Salamis lies just off the Eleusis shipyards and oil refineries, one of the most polluted areas in Greece. The sewage treatment plant of Psyttalia is also near where the tanker sank. — AFP