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Greece in shipping regulation shake-up following tanker spill

Greece in shipping regulation shake-up following tanker spill

Following a relatively small oil spill off Athens 10 September, that authorities have been accused of handling poorly, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Shipping and Island Policy minister, Panagiotis Kouroumplis, have pledged a shake-up of the Hellenic Coast Guard, the way ship’s seaworthiness certificates are issued, and a review age limits.

A week after the spill had heavily fouled beaches along Athens so-called Riviera, leading to their closure, the ramifications of the sinking of the loaded 45-year-old, 3,200 dwt Greek-flagged tanker Agia Zoni II were just beginning.

The tanker went down in almost perfect weather, as it was at anchor off Salamis island, west of Athens. A still unknown quantity of the 2,800 tonnes of fuel onboard escaped from the wreckage and carried by the currents.

Tsipras, after chairing a meeting with the leadership of the Shipping Ministry, two days after the event said he was ordering the transfer of the authority to grant seaworthiness certificates from the Shipping ministry to ship classification societies and signaled the further downgrading of the Piraeus-based Ministry by saying the Hellenic Coast Guard and ship inspectorate service would be moved from its traditional home to that of the Interior Affairs Ministry, under which umbrella is the police force.

Further, the government is promising urgent inspections of scores of small coastal tankers. The Shipping Ministry says the unscheduled checks will affect Greek-flagged fuel tankers plying domestic waters, which are usually older and less stringently monitored than international shipping.

Kouroumplis had already intimated the upper age limit of ships flying the Greek flag and ships based in Greek waters will be reviewed.

Tsipras’ office in an e-mail said: “Responsibility to audit and inspect ships with regards to issuing certificates of seaworthiness is immediately transferred from the inspection department of merchant marine vessels to classification societies.”

It was intimated the job would be given to Greece’s Hellenic Register of Shipping, a major boost for the society and the Piraeus cluster if it can handle the huge increase in workload.

Tsipras has defended his government’s handling of the crisis, but agrees there is a need for “deep reforms” to the system under which certificates are issued deeming vessels to be seaworthy. Tsipras said priority was the “substantial” tackling of the problem, “not making short-term impressions.”

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