A diesel fuel tanker carrying 750 tonnes of fuel from Egypt to Malta sank in Tunisia’s Gulf of Gabes on Saturday, hours after the Xelo vessel launched a distress call, according to Tunisian authorities. All seven crew members have been evacuated.
Tunisia’s Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui is travelling to Gabes “to evaluate the situation… and to take necessary preventive decisions in coordination with the regional authorities”, a ministry statement said.
Trying to prevent an environmental disaster
The Tunisian authorities are trying to prevent the spread of diesel, which would contaminate the water and kill marine life.
“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,” said Mohamed Karray, spokesman for a court in Gabes.
The 58M-long Equatorial Guinea-flagged Xelo boat left the Egyptian port of Damietta, en route to Malta when it requested entry to Tunisian waters.
The Xelo began taking water, including in the engine room, some seven kilometers offshore in the Gulf of Gabes according to a Tunisian environment ministry statement.
Court spokesman Karray said the Georgian captain, four Turks and two Azerbaijanis were briefly hospitalized but are now safe and in a hotel.
The Gulf of Gabes was once known for fishing, but pollution via an oil pipeline bringing oil from the south of the country and runoff from phosphate processing has undermined the former fishing area.
This is not the first time Tunisia has had to deal with accidents or spills on the sea. In October 2018, a Tunisian freighter hit a Cyprus-flagged ship anchored 30km from northern Corsica, a French island. Hundreds of tonnes of fuel contaminated the Mediterranean.
The cleanup included pumping out some 520 cubic meters of propulsion fuel.