By Peter Stevenson
AUTHORITIES were put on alert yesterday after the oil-spill in the sea off the coast of the Karpas in the north reached government-controlled waters.
According to reports, volunteers, divers and officials from the fisheries department, Paralimni Municipality and district offices, police and the port authority took part in the clean-up.
The first reports of oil in the sea came at 11am yesterday near the Crystal Springs Hotel in the Kappari region of Protaras. By the afternoon crews had also begun collecting oil off the coast of the Vrissiana Beach Hotel, Nafsika and Konnos beach.
The fisheries department last week, following the spill in the north had expressed its readiness to deal with any problems that might arise from oil entering government controlled waters.
Coastal inspector, Giorgos Economou who was heading the clean-up process told the Cyprus Mail that there was no cause for concern and that crews were working extremely hard to remove the oil from the sea.
“Due to strong south-easterly winds, oil that had been spilled into the sea in the north has contaminated portions of the sea in the Famagusta district but efforts are being made so it does not reach densely populated tourist beaches,” he said.
Economou explained that the oil which had reached southern shores was not flowing and was in large chunks called mazut. Nets and absorbent booms which had been taken to the area following last week’s oil spill in the north were being used by crews to try to mop-up the oil in the sea.
“We have received help from police who sent their helicopter over the water for an aerial view, to inform us of where the pockets of oil are so we know where to concentrate the clean-up procedure,” the coastal inspector said.
The helicopter is due to fly over the sea this morning to give authorities a clearer indication of what more needs to be done.
“There is no cause for alarm and the whole situation is under control and we recommend that tourists and those visiting the beaches go about their business as usual,” he said.
Economou added that beach-goers had witnessed the authorities’ clean-up from the morning and that their presence had not discouraged people from entering the sea.
Environment Commissioner Ioanna Panayiotou expressed the need for the clean-up process to happen as quickly as possible to prevent any oil from reaching the beaches.
“What is of the utmost importance is that the clean-up happens efficiently and quickly to prevent oil from reaching the beaches and adversely affecting tourism,” she said.
Panayiotou was unsure whether the fisheries department could have predicted the oil’s arrival off the shores sooner by patrolling in deeper waters.
“We will have to examine whether anything more could have been done to prevent the oil from reaching our waters but the south-easterly winds brought the chunks of oil very quickly from the north,” she added.
The commissioner explained that local authorities, along with the fisheries department were fully prepared for any possible escalation in the quantities of oil arriving off southern shores.
The Green Party said their worst fears had become reality after hearing news.
“We had warned of the possibility of such an event and we reassured by the government that they would closely monitor the oil spill but unfortunately it would appear state services have been slow in acting,” a statement from the party said.
They called on the relevant services to act immediately in order to prevent any more adverse affects to the environment.
Arriving late on the scene yesterday, manager of the Famagusta region Tourist Board, Lakis Avraamides told the Cyprus Mail that no beaches and tourists had been affected by the oil arriving in the area.
“The oil has thickened and become jelly-like and is now being easily collected,” he said. Avraamides explained that all of the relevant authorities had coordinated and dealt with the problem efficiently.
“The situation is under control and we are not worried at all that it could affect tourism,” he said. Boats are constantly patrolling the seas and any sign of a spill will be cleaned up immediately, Avraamides added.
It was revealed earlier this week that AKSA Energy, the company held responsible by the Turkish Cypriot government for the spill had been fined around €68,000 (169,800 Turkish Lira) for the incident.