Diesel tanker sinks off Tunisia risking environmental disaster
Ship carrying 750 tonnes of fuel from Egypt to Malta ran into difficulty in bad weather on Friday evening
A tanker carrying 750 tonnes of diesel fuel from Egypt to Malta sank in the Gulf of Gabes off Tunisia’s south-east coast, sparking a rush to avoid a spill.
The Equatorial Guinea-flagged Xelo was sailing from the Egyptian port of Damietta to Malta when it requested entry to Tunisian waters on Friday evening owing to bad weather.
“The ship sank this morning in Tunisian territorial waters. For the moment, there is no leak,” said a local court spokesperson, Mohamed Karray.
A disaster prevention committee would meet in the coming hours to decide on the measures to be taken, he added.
The tanker is 58 metres (190ft) long and nine metres wide, according to the ship monitoring website Vesseltracker.com.
It began taking on water about 7km (four miles) offshore in the Gulf of Gabes and the engine room was engulfed, according to a Tunisian environment ministry statement. It said Tunisian authorities evacuated the seven-member crew.
The environment minister, Leila Chikhaoui, was travelling to Gabes “to evaluate the situation … and take necessary preventive decisions in coordination with the regional authorities,” the ministry said.
Authorities had 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”.
Karray said the Georgian captain, four Turks and two Azerbaijanis were briefly hospitalised for checks and were now in a hotel.
The defence, interior, transport and customs ministries were working to avoid a marine environmental disaster in the region and limit its impact, the environment ministry said.
Before the ship sank, it had described the situation as “alarming” but “under control”.
The Gulf of Gabes was traditionally a fishing area but activists say it has suffered pollution from phosphate processing industries based near the city of Gabes.