Sunken tanker contained no fuel, government says


TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A commercial tanker that sank off the coast of Tunisia that contained 750 tons of diesel fuel actually contained no fuel, according to Tunisian navy officials. The ship’s crew has been arrested on suspicion of criminal activity.

The sinking of the Xelo ship last week raised fears of a potential fuel leak in the Mediterranean. The Tunisian Ministry of the Environment has activated an emergency response plan and neighboring Italy has sent a barge with pollution control equipment to the region.

The ship’s captain initially said it contained 750 tons of fuel. But after Tunisian and Italian divers inspected the sunken ship, they found no fuel in its containers, Rear Admiral Mezri Latif told a news conference on Friday.

“There was only sea water inside the ship… The ship’s valves and pumps were corroded. We inferred that the vessel had not carried oil for some time,” he said.

“The ship no longer represents an ecological danger for the Gulf of Gabes. There is no fuel leak. The Navy will supervise the wreckage extraction operation and the investigation will continue to determine the exact causes of the sinking,” the Tunisian officer said.

He said the ship’s deck was vandalized and several navigational devices were ripped out. The GPS was destroyed by hammer blows and the ship’s bill of lading disappeared.

The seven-member crew was rescued by the Tunisian Navy after sending out a distress signal on April 16 due to poor weather conditions.

They were all arrested on Friday on charges of association with criminal activities, according to Mohamed Karay, spokesman for the Gabes city court.

The boat was registered in Equatorial Guinea and its crew members are from Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The Xelo had left the port of Damietta in Egypt bound for Malta, but was diverted from its route due to bad weather conditions.


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