Video: Bunkering Tanker Sinks off Tunisia

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Published Apr 18, 2022 2:05 AM by The Maritime Executive

A bunker tanker has sunk off the coast of Gabes, Tunisia, threatening to release up to 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the water. 

The vessel has been identified as the Turkish-operated Xelo, a small bunker tanker. Her crew made a distress call during a storm on Friday night, and they sought shelter in the Gulf of Gabes. The crew were safely evacuated, but the vessel sank in shallow water on Saturday morning. 

Mohamed Karray, a regional government spokesman, told France24 that the situation was under control and posed little harm. "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," he said. 

The nation's environment minister, Lelia Chikhaoui, has gone to Gabes to oversee pollution containment efforts personally. In an update Sunday, transport minister Rabii Mjiidi said that no fuel spill has been detected yet, and that salvors are working on plans to pump out the vessel's tanks. Tunisia's ministry of transport has launched an inquiry into the cause of the sinking "in order to preserve the rights of the Tunisian state." 

Activists and researchers assert that the Gulf of Gabes is already polluted by effluent from the region's phosphate industry, and any pollution from Xelo would add to existing environmental degradation in the area. 

Xelo was a 1,000 dwt bunker tanker built in 1977 and flagged in Equatorial Guinea. Her port state control inspection record contains an extensive list of deficiencies and detentions, including a two-week detention in Neapolis, Greece this February. Inspectors found issues with her fire pumps, SOLAS gear, charts and anchoring systems, among other items.