After the sinking of the oil tanker Xelo in Gabes, Tunisia, on Saturday 16 April 2022, many questions were raised about the extraction of the 750 tonnes of diesel oil carried by the floating vessel. As a result, Italy sent a military clean-up vessel which arrived on Tuesday off the coast of south-eastern Tunisia. The main task will be to assist the technicians in the pumping operations of the gas oil carried by the cargo.
The military clean-up vessel was sent in the framework of Tunisian-Italian cooperation. Indeed, The aim is to extract the 750 tonnes of diesel oil carried on the tanker, a high-risk operation, as the slightest leak could result in an oil spill.
Tunisian Navy Captain Mazeri Letayef, who heads a crisis unit set up after the accident, said the ship is currently inspecting the sunken tanker with a view to proposing a technical solution for pumping. To be clear, the The captain pointed out that the Italian vessel is not equipped to carry out the pumping operation, which is not easy and must be carried out without the risk of leaking gas oil.
The conditions of the sunken ship
The tanker, Xelo, left the port of Damietta in Egypt and was heading for Malta. The incident occurred on Saturday in Tunisian waters where it had taken refuge on Friday evening due to bad weather conditions. As a result, the 58 m long and 9 m wide cargo ship began to leak. Fortunately, navy forces evacuated the seven crew members before the ship sank into the sea.
According to divers deployed on Sunday to carry out inspection operations, the vessel sank to a depth of nearly 20 metres, in a horizontal position and did not show any cracks, said a statement from the Environment Ministry. Tunisian Transport Minister Rabie Majidi In a statement to the local media, he reassured them that the incident had not caused “any marine disaster”. Nevertheless, the Tunisian justice system has opened an investigation to determine the causes of this accident but also the nature of the tanker’s activity and its route in recent weeks.
Huge blind spots
The cargo ship Xelo was sunken only 7 kilometres off the Tunisian coast and, given its destination (Malta), it had no business being there. According to official information, the captain entered Tunisian waters to get out of the wind. However, weather reports do not indicate strong winds.
Similarly, the activity of this vessel, which flies the Equatorial Guinean flag, leaves something to be desired. The aircraft is said to be 47 years old, which is an eternity for a ship. In 2021, the authorities in the port of Neapolis, Greece, would have deemed her unseaworthy, and for good reason: the tanker was built in 1975.
On the other hand, the Tunisian Ministry of the Environment in charge of crisis management also announced that a document had disappeared. This would be the bill of lading showing the details of the load. The Gabes court has opened an investigation into the reasons for the sunken ship, while the bulk of the pumping operations should begin yesterday, Tuesday, according to local media.
These are all grey areas that raise many suspicions. For the time being, the important thing is to extract these hundreds of tons of liquid because if an oil spill were to occur, Abdelmajid Dabbar, president of the Association Tunisie Écologie (ATE), affirms that it would be an ecological and economic disaster in a region with unique biodiversity.