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Sinking of an oil tanker off the Tunisian coast: fear of an oil spill

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An oil tanker, carrying 750 tonnes of diesel, left Egypt for Malta, was shipwrecked this Saturday in the Gulf of Gabès, on the south-eastern coast of Tunisia, prompting a mobilization to avoid an oil spill.

“The ship sank this morning in Tunisian territorial waters. For the moment, there is no leak,” a spokesman for the Gabès court told AFP. According to this spokesman, Mohamed Karray, a “disaster prevention commission will meet in the coming hours to decide on the measures to be taken”.

Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui is “on her way to Gabès to assess the situation after the sinking of the Xelo ship and to take the necessary preventive decisions in coordination with the regional authorities,” the ministry said in a statement. The authorities have activated “the national emergency plan for the prevention of marine pollution with the aim of controlling the situation and avoiding the spread of pollutants”.

Bad weather conditions

The Xelo tanker (IMO 7618272) 58 meters long by 9 meters wide, according to the Vesseltracker website, and flying the flag of Equatorial Guinea, was heading for the island of Malta from the port of Damietta in Egypt, according to the ministry. To take shelter, in the face of bad weather conditions, the ship had asked to enter Tunisian territorial waters on Friday evening.

While about 7 km off the coast of the Gulf of Gabes, the tanker began to take on water, according to the ministry. The water seeped into the engine room, rising up to almost two meters in height. The Tunisian authorities then evacuated the crew of seven people on board the ship in distress, the ministry added.

“Limit the repercussions”

According to the court’s spokesman, the crew members, made up of a Georgian captain, four Turks and two Azerbaijanis, were briefly “hospitalized for checks and are staying in a hotel”. The Ministries of Defence, Interior, Transport and Customs are working to avoid “a marine environmental disaster in the region and to limit its repercussions”, assured the Ministry of the Environment.

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When the ship had not yet sunk, the ministry described the ship’s situation as “alarming” but “under control”.

The last maritime accident involving Tunisia dates back to October 2018, when a Tunisian ro-ro ship L’Ulysse collided with a Cypriot container ship CLS Virginia 28 km off Cap Corse, France. At the time, a slick of 600 tonnes of propulsion fuel had escaped from the Cypriot container ship, which required the intervention of French and Italian ships and the European Maritime Agency to limit marine pollution.

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