AFP, published on Sunday, April 17, 2022 at 8:45 p.m.
“No leaks detected”: Divers inspected the hull of the tanker, which sank the previous day near Gabès, off Tunisia’s southeastern coast, on Sunday and found no leaks in its 750-tonne diesel cargo, they said. the Tunisian authorities.
According to the divers, the ship “sunk almost 20 meters deep, in a horizontal position and does not show cracks,” the Tunisian Ministry of the Environment reported in a press release, adding that “no leak was found in the diesel cargo.
The team of divers was “accompanied by the ship’s captain and mechanic, who know the configuration of the ship,” Mohamed Karray, spokesman for the Gabès prosecutor’s office, who opened an investigation into the causes of the accident, told AFP. The accident.
The oil tanker Xelo, which left the port of Damietta in Egypt and headed for Malta, sank this Saturday in Tunisian waters where it had taken refuge the night before due to bad weather conditions.
The ship, 58 meters long by 9 meters wide, began to take on water in the engine room. The authorities then proceeded to evacuate the seven crew members, before the sinking of the Xelo at dawn.
In a video from the Ministry of the Environment on Sunday, we only see the tip of a mast emerging from the waves. The area, controlled by the army, is inaccessible to the press.
– Delicate operation –
According to the Minister of Transport, Rabie el Majidi, during the rescue, the rescuers “made sure to close the holds to prevent diesel leaks and the divers verified that they are intact.”
“The situation n’est pas dangereuse, le diagnostic est positif, le navire est stable car il a heureusement coulé sur du sable”, affirmed the minister lors d’un point presse dimanche dans le port de Gabès, avec sa collègue de l ‘Environment.
Floating anti-pollution barriers have already been installed in a 200-meter perimeter around the wreck.
But the priority of the authorities continues to be the pumping of diesel.
It is “very complicated for the divers to locate the outlets (of the warehouses) to carry out the pumping,” the Minister of Transport explained to the press, while minimizing the scope of the risks: “750 tons of diesel is nothing” and “Diesel evaporates easily in the sun.”
The authorities said they were studying “the offers received to help them” for the pumping, also from abroad.
“The Italian ambassador (in Tunisia, editor’s note) Lorenzo Fanara was contacted this Sunday by the Tunisian authorities and the Italian government immediately decided to send an anti-pollution boat and a team of specialized divers,” diplomatic sources told AFP.
“The ship will arrive in Tunisian waters on Monday,” they added.
– Ship Investigation –
While waiting for the cargo to be pumped, the conservation organization WWF has warned of “a new environmental catastrophe” in an area that is a fishing ground for “about 34,000 sailors” and that has suffered pollution episodes, in particular due to the phosphate and the presence of an oil pipeline, in recent decades.
Tunisian officials are also interested in the course of the ship, built in 1977 and flying the flag of Equatorial Guinea, and its owners: a Turk and a Libyan, according to the Gabès prosecutor’s office.
The “+bill of lading+, an important document (about the ship’s trajectory and cargo, editor’s note) was left on the ship by the crew,” Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui said.
The Ministry of Transport seeks to “verify the exact nature of the activity of the ship and its route during the last weeks”.
According to this ministry, the Xelo was stationed from April 4 to 8 in the Tunisian port of Sfax, north of Gabès, “to change crews, refuel and make light repairs, without loading or unloading.”
Local media have recalled the proximity of the Gulf of Gabès to Libya, an important oil-producing country, whose coasts have been the scene of hydrocarbon trafficking in recent years.