A tanker carrying 750 tons of diesel fuel from Egypt to Malta sank Saturday off Tunisia’s south-East coast, but there is a possibility of avoiding a large spill.
The tanker in question – named Xelo – sought shelter in Tunisian waters from bad weather before going down in the Gulf of Gabes.
Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui said that the situation was under control. She added that she was travelling to Gabes “to evaluate the situation […] and take necessary preventive decisions in coordination with the regional authorities.”
Also, the spokesman for a court in Gabes Mohamed Karray said: “There are minimal leaks, which are not even visible to the naked eye, and fortunately the oil is evaporating, so there should not be a disaster in the Gulf of Gabes.”
The Tunisian environment ministry said that the 63-yard-long and 9.8-yard-wide tanker began taking water around four miles offshore in the Gulf of Gabes and that the engine room was engulfed. It said that Tunisian authorities evacuated the seven-member crew. The Georgian captain, four Turks, and two Azerbaijanis were briefly hospitalized for checks and were later moved to a hotel.
Furthermore, authorities activated the national emergency plan for the prevention of marine pollution with the aim of ‘bringing the situation under control and avoiding the spread of pollutants.’
The environment ministry added that the defence, interior, transport, and customs ministries were working to avoid a marine environmental disaster in the region and limit its impact. Before the ship sank, the ministry described the situation as ‘alarming but under control.’
The Gulf of Gabes where the ship sank is a fishing area but has suffered from pollution from phosphate processing industries based nearby and the presence of a pipeline bringing oil from southern Tunisia.
After the vessel sank, divers inspected the hull of the tanker and detected no leaks. The inspection was carried out by divers accompanied by the ship’s captain and engineer. Xelo, after sinking settled on its side at a depth of around 65 feet. Access to the vessel is sealed off by Tunisia’s military.
The valves were closed, and the team of divers ensured they were sealed and intact. Authorities claimed that the situation was not dangerous and that the outlook was positive. The ship is currently stable as it ran aground on the sand. The priority now was to pump the diesel fuel and prevent any spillage or pollution.
An Italian ship specialized in cleaning up marine pollution will be sent alongside a team of divers to aid with efforts.
The previous incident in Tunisia occurred in October 2018. Tunisian freighter Ulysse hit the Cyprus-based Virginia anchored some 20 miles off northern Corsica. As a consequence, hundreds of tons of fuel spilt into the Mediterranean. It took several days to disentangle the boats and pump some 18,360 cubic feet of fuel that escaped the tanks.
•By Bojan Lepic|Rigzone Staff