Cyprus Mail

The clean sea challenge

A cruise ship docked at Limassol port-File photo

Cyprus needs to keep its coveted ‘blue flag’ beaches clean, which means keeping a close eye on the waste disposal from boats

In order to tackle pollution near the Limassol beaches, the municipality has purchased a boat with a special container to collect the solid waste found in the sea, Limassol Mayor Andreas Christou announced on Friday.

Twelve Limassol beaches have recently been awarded the exclusive eco-label award ‘The blue flag’, but is one boat enough to keep the waters clean?

Sources of the pollution are waste from the harbour, from ships and from fish farms, a study carried out by the University of technology’s (TEPAK) environment department concluded last year.

As everybody agrees, it is likely that ships don’t all follow the regulations about dumping garbage, but it is difficult to enforce the regulations. “How do we find what the ships do at night time?” Demetris Klitou from the Marine and Environmental Research Lab (MER) asked. “It is very hard to find out and to control the open sea.”

However, apart from the TEPAK study and the fact that rubbish has been seen floating in the sea, there is more evidence that all is not well. Eyewitness Dimitris Constantinou talked about his experience which happened in broad daylight to the Sunday Mail.

Waste dumped in the sea

“We had gone on a cruise to the Greek islands last summer,” he said. “Everything was great, we loved it – except, when we returned to Limassol, after the ship entered the port, it stopped for a while before docking. We were wondering what happened – we thought it was waiting for another boat to move or something. So we walked around on the deck, waiting for the ship to dock.

“When we got to the side facing away from the shore, we realised the ship was dumping waste from its belly into the sea. It was this dark-coloured stuff, and it kept coming out for maybe 10 minutes. We were astonished – how can they be allowed to do that? But, we thought, surely they can’t just be dumping stuff in the sea if they’re not allowed.”

In fact, if it had been further from the coast, it may have been allowed. As George Pouros, head of the port authority pointed out, in the open sea it is allowed to dump waste from toilets only, provided it has been treated. Treatment means anything from smashing it up to more sophisticated methods which can transform the waste to something very close to clear water. However, the ships must be in the open sea to do this, three miles from the coast.

The authorities can only check that the on-board treatment system is in working order and the logbook is correctly filled in, but not if treatment has actually taken place. The cases where it hasn’t are one of the sources of when, as the municipality put it, “some solid material is found occasionally in the sea”.

So what do the authorities do about it apart from the boat with the container? The general auditor’s report from 2014 sheds some light on problems with boats’ waste disposal.

“The responsibility for monitoring proper waste disposal by boats is spread across too many services, with no clear indication as to who is in charge. Regular inspections are not carried out and no one was ever punished for violating the law,” the report said.

Who’s responsible?

“The fishery department is only responsible for oil spills,” George Payatis from the fishery department which is under the agriculture ministry said. “The municipality is responsible for the bathing areas and the merchant shipping department is also responsible for some areas. Unfortunately, there is no management plan and every time there is a problem nobody is fully responsible.”

The department of merchant shipping operates under the ministry of communications and works. It is responsible for the correct implementation of all relevant laws and regulations. “When a violation has been witnessed,” Michalis Kanias from the department explained, “there are many penalties such as fines regulated by the IMO (the International Maritime Organisation).” But few will report a violation, he added.

Yet another organisation involved is the port authority. According to port head Pouros it is not that easy to get away with polluting the sea.

“Any ship has to pay for garbage disposal whether they use the services or not,” he said, “so they deliver.”

Every day, he explained, a boat goes around the port and collects all the garbage. As well, from the amount of the garbage, for which records have to be kept, the authorities can see if some has been dumped, in which case the responsible person will be persecuted. There are also procedures to prevent the dumping of oil, as each ship has to deliver a certain amount of discharged oil for which they get a receipt.

fish farms
A report by the University of Technology says fish farms are also a cause of sea polution

Then there is the municipality which is responsible for the beaches and of course anxious that nothing interferes with the ‘blue flag’ status. This explains the purchase of the boat.

As a result of last year’s TEPAK study, a dispersant is also used to combat any oil.

The study’s suggested solutions are biological cleaning and installing a sensor system to detect pollution. The research also suggests curtains in fish farms to prevent waste from floating into other areas. Boats to patrol the areas near the coast are also needed.

But the sea is hard to control and much can go unnoticed. The obvious answer is for the different authorities to start working together and come up with a more comprehensive plan.

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