By Peter Stevenson
The Republic was despatching oil absorbent booms to the north after Turkish Cypriots re-submitted a request for assistance to deal with an oil spill off the coast of the occupied village of Gastria, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
“UNFICYP is in the process of facilitating the transfer of oil absorbent booms from Limassol to the side of the oil spill off the coast of the Karpas Peninsula as a result of an agreement reached between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot Chambers of Commerce,” UN spokesman Rolando Gomez told the Cyprus News Agency.
Earlier, Gomez said Turkish Cypriots had asked for help from the Republic but later withdrew their request.
He said that the Greek Cypriot side responded immediately to the request and were ready to help. “During the course of the day UNFICYP was informed that the Turkish Cypriot side no longer needed help from the Greek Cypriot side as assistance from Turkey was due to arrive earlier than expected,” he said.
The Republic of Cyprus said on Wednesday it was ready to deal with any possible contamination of its waters from the 100 tonnes of oil which spilled when a pipeline broke on Tuesday.
Both the departments of fisheries and merchant shipping said they were on alert after reports from the north claimed the oil-spill was spreading. Environment Commissioner Ioanna Panayiotou told the Cyprus Mail that help had been offered to Turkish Cypriot authorities but it was rejected.
“It is a shame because we have equipment which can help contain the problem as the spill is expanding and as far as we are aware no help has arrived from Turkey yet,” she said.
It was reported on Tuesday that around 100 tonnes of oil were spilled at around 2am that say after a pipeline from a tanker broke during attempts to supply the AKSA Energy power station.
Initial reports from the north claimed the oil spill covered a radius of five kilometres on the southern side of the Karpas peninsula but by yesterday the size of the spill had reached seven kilometres.
‘Foreign minister’ Kutlay Erk and ‘environment minister’ Mehmet Harmanci stated that they had launched initiatives asking for help from Turkey and the UN. They said that they had asked for barriers and equipment from Turkey.
Erk also noted that this was not the first time that such an incident had been caused by AKSA. “This means that they have weaknesses”, he said adding that in case AKSA does not overcome these weaknesses the government will examine the contract they have together.
‘Prime minister’ Sibel Siber said that the effort to clean the area has started and that the firm which is responsible for the tragedy was bringing ships from Turkey. She expressed her sorrow at being faced with another environmental disaster. Siber added that the clean-up process had begun.
“It’s redundant to talk about what has already happened, making sure it does not happen again is of the utmost importance,” she said. Siber explained that if the winds pick-up then there is a danger the spill could expand.
According to northern daily Kibris Postasi, Deepsea Fisheries, the company which owns the fish farm which was hit by the oil spill, has had to change all of their nets. The company said that if samples sent to Turkey for testing showed that the fish had been contaminated then they would ask for compensation.
The damage done to the nets is between €80,000 and €100,000 and if the fish are found to be contaminated the damage could rise to a €1 million.
The incident will be dealt with on three levels according to ‘finance and energy minister’ Atai Ahmed Rashid after a meeting of the crisis management team.
Efforts will be made to deal with the problem, measures will be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future and an investigation will take place to find out the cause.
A team of experts was due on Wednesday from Mersin in Turkey to deal with the problem, with the clean-up process possibly taking a week, Rashid added. He revealed that ships that would transfer oil from now on would be surrounded by barriers to limit any spills. The fault in the pipeline would be repaired under the supervision of the government in the north, he said.
Rashid added that the north did not possess the appropriate infrastructure to deal with such catastrophes and that the current government would take temporary measures to deal with the problem but a road map needed to be created for future authorities.
He also revealed that despite being called the ‘finance and energy ministry’ there was a lack of specialists in the field of energy.
Head of the Turkish Cypriot Green Action Group, Dogan Sahir, told the Mail on Wednesday that the ‘government’ in the north was not prepared for any kind of environmental disaster.
“The government cannot do anything about this situation as they have no experience and no equipment to deal with any kind of oil spill, let alone one of this size,” he said.
He explained that a special crisis management team had been assembled but they were unable to do much until help arrived from Turkey.
“I cannot stress enough the urgency with which the clean-up process needs to happen as the longer we wait the worse the situation becomes with fish farms and beaches being affected,” he added.
Sahir claimed that AKSA had attempted to initially keep the oil-spill a secret but could not, due to its size.
Murat Captug, director of the AKSA electrical power station told reporters in the north that he asked for help from a private company in Turkey. The culprit tanker was not allowed to debark and will remain in the sea until a full investigation is carried out into the incident, reports claimed.
In a statement earlier in the day, the Environment Commissioner Panayiotou had expressed her concern that the correct measures and equipment were not available in the north and that steps needed to be taken to prevent similar disasters from happening.
“According to press reports the spill is heading towards beaches in Karpasia which could put the whole ecosystem in the north in danger,” Panayiotou said.
“The clean-up process is difficult and the consequences to rocky beaches could be catastrophic as well as making plankton toxic which then has a knock-on effect and could poison all of the organisms that feed on it,” she said.
Oil also decreases the sea’s transparency meaning underwater plant-life will also suffer the consequences of the spill, the commissioner said.
“A quick and efficient clean-up of an oil spill is of the utmost importance but a complete clean-up unfortunately is not possible so special barriers are used to limit how much it will spread,” she added.