Oil spill fears as Greek liner sinks

Wildlife and tourism are likely to be affected after a cruise ship carrying hundreds of tons of oil went down off the coast of the Aegean island cluster Santorini.

The MV Sea Diamond sank in the early hours of last Friday after scraping a reef.

Over 1,000 passengers were evacuated, along with almost 400 crew, though a French national and his daughter are still missing following the accident, with local media reporting that their cabin was below the water level already when the alarm was raised.

Greek authorities have launched a massive operation to try to contain fuel oil and lubricants carried by the vessel, thought to total around 400 tons.

The owner of the ship, Louis Hellenic Cruises, has also hired specialists to help reduce the environmental impact of the disaster.

“Louis Hellenic Cruises wishes to inform that it has appointed a company specializing in the prevention and management of sea pollution, contributing in this way to the efforts conducted by the local Greek authorities in preventing any possible environmental consequences around the wreck,” said a statement issued by the company.

So far a three and a half mile stretch of coastline has been affected by the spill and the engineer heading the containment and clean up operation has told the press he is reasonably optimistic that the team will be able to prevent a major environmental disaster.

A popular tourist destination, Santorini is not as environmentally sensitive as many of the other Greek islands, with much of the arid volcanic land given over to cultivation.

Nevertheless, the spill will damage both marine and coastal ecosystems and is bad news for birds, fish and lizards in the region.

The Sea Diamond was built in 1986 and underwent extensive refurbishment in 1999. She joined Louis Hellenic Cruises’ fleet in 2006.

The company claims the vessel maintained the highest level of safety standards and was equipped with the latest navigation systems.

Human error has been put forward as the most likely explanation for the wreck, which took place in fair weather, and the captain and five other crew have been charged with negligence.

If convicted, they are likely to receive suspended prison sentences.

Sam Bond

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