Spill from Greek Tanker Leads to Calls for Reform

Image courtesy Greenpeace Greece

Published Sep 18, 2017 10:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, containment and decontamination efforts continued in the wake of an oil spill from the Greek product tanker Agia Zoni II, which sank off the Piraeus harbor entrance on September 9. 

The aging tanker had 2,200 tonnes of fuel oil cargo and 340 tons of bunker fuel on board at the time she went down, and it estimated that she released about 135 tonnes of cargo into the environment. The ministry said that salvage divers sealed her tanks to prevent further leaks, but by September 15, the spreading pollution forced authorities to ban swimming at popular beaches along a stretch extending from Piraeus south to Glyfadia. As of Monday, the cleanup effort extended from Salamis Island to the resort town of Lagonisi, 18 nm to the southeast. 

Video: divers have found heavy oil from the Zoni on the seabed nearby (in Greek)

The Greek shipping ministry, the Agia Zoni's owner and the insurer have come in for criticism over the spill and the response effort. The tanker was not classed by an IACS society; instead, it operated under a certificate of seaworthiness issued by the Greek commercial shipping inspectorate. The certificate had expired in late July, and the inspectorate had granted a two-month extension, which was in effect when the Zoni went down. 

Shipping experts told Greek outlet Kathimerini that the Greek shipping ministry does not have the same inspection resources as the IACS class societies, and cannot carry out the same level of oversight as, say, DNV GL, which classed the Zoni until 2008.

The product tanker Agia Zoni I has the same arrangement: she was withdrawn from class at the owner's request in 2007, according to Equasis. And the certification question is not restricted to one shipowner. On Monday, the tanker that was taking on oil from the wreck of the Zoni had to depart the scene because its own seaworthiness certificate had expired. It had already taken on 1,000 tons of fuel from the Zoni's tanks, and it will be replaced by another vessel.  

The ruling party, the left-wing coalition Syriza, called for reform in the shipping ministry to improve oversight. "Protection of the environment is not a luxury, but a prerequisite for social well-being," the party wrote in a statement. "In this context, it is necessary to further strengthen the institutional framework as well as to strengthen the public sector mechanisms for the control of maritime transport." The Panhellenic Seamen's Federation (PENEN) also called for reforms to remove aging or poorly-maintained tonnage from the local fleet of bunkering vessels and small tankers.

Last Friday, prosecutors in Athens filed criminal charges against the Zoni’s owners and her crew for alleged violations of environmental law. The cause of the Zoni's sinking is not yet known; she was at anchor, and her owner told media that the master was not on board at the time of the sinking. Coast Guard authorities reported that she went down within minutes.