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Our View: State must act to keep our seas clean

AT THE start of the week, lifeguards at Governor’s Beach raised the red flag and prevented people from entering the sea because it was polluted with oil and solid waste. The pollution is an ongoing problem in the sea off Limassol and is usually caused by passing ships emptying their septic tanks in the water, several kilometres off the coast. According to reports there had been several occasions when faeces were brought in by the tide.

It is an unacceptable situation, which our labyrinthine state authorities have been unable to tackle even though our beaches are the tourism industry’s main selling point. In a country, the economy of which depended on tourism, the authorities would have been mobilised and put together an action plan to prevent this from happening. In our bureaucratic state, however, a range of government departments have different powers with the result that none of them has ultimate responsibility for dealing with the problem. Instead representatives of the departments sit together at meetings, pass the buck and take no decisions.

Mayor of Limassol Andreas Christou said that a week ago a meeting was called at the environment department, but “other government departments did not even bother to come.” The mayor set the problem in its true context when he said nobody wanted to take a political decision and set up a body that would have overall responsibility for the matter, ensuring there is no dumping of waste, fining offenders and carrying out inspections.

It is not such a difficult thing to set up, but nobody seems willing to take responsibility, even though the problem was identified in the auditor-general’s 2014 report, which said “the responsibility for supervising proper waste disposal by ships is spread across too many services with no clear indication as to who is in charge.” It also noted that “regular inspections are not carried out and no-one was ever punished for violating the law.”

Among the government services with some responsibility are the ports authority, the fisheries department, the environment department, the department of merchant shipping, the health services, and the tourism ministry for marinas, which means four different ministries are involved. In effect we have a do-nothing policy and the law is not enforced (as noted by auditor-general), because nobody is in charge. The irony is that there are scores of under-occupied, highly-paid officials at the four ministries who could be put in charge of a central authority with overall responsibility for keeping the seas clean.

Limassol municipality has invested in a boat to collect solid waste from the sea, but this quite clearly is not enough. Meanwhile, the media criticism has spurred some action with Limassol port authorities yesterday embarking on the inspection of all vessels sailing off Limassol or anchored in the port while the environment department took samples for testing. This is a start, but it is not the answer, because once the publicity ends the departments will return to doing nothing. The government needs to set up a service with overall responsibility for keeping our seas clean.

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