Tunisian authorities have intensified efforts to avoid an environmental disaster after a merchant ship carrying 750 tonnes of diesel fuel sank in the Gulf of Gabes off Tunisia’s southeast coast.
The cause of the incident was bad weather and authorities worked on Saturday to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
Barriers were set up to limit the spread of fuel and cordon off the ship, the ministry of environment said. The Tunisian navy rescued all seven crew members from the ship.
Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui, who travelled to the port of Gabes on Saturday to help oversee the response, said the situation was “under control”.
“We think the hull is still watertight and there is no leakage for the moment,” she said. “We think that the means we already have at our disposal will allow us to limit the accident.”
Chikhaoui said the government would not hesitate to appeal for foreign assistance if necessary.
The environment minister said authorities were waiting for the “weather to improve in terms of both the wind and the swell before sending down divers to check with more certainty on the state of the hull”.
The weather was still too poor to start Saturday, Chikhaoui added.
“The ship sank this morning in Tunisian territorial waters. For the moment, there is no leak,” Mohamed Karray, a spokesman for a local court said, adding a “disaster prevention committee will meet to decide on the measures to be taken”.
The Georgian captain, four Turk and two Azerbaijani crew were briefly hospitalised for checks and were now in a hotel, Karray said.
Earlier, authorities in Tunisia said the ship that ran into difficulty risks leaking fuel.
The merchant ship, the Xelo, requested entry to Tunisian waters on Friday evening because of bad weather, the environment ministry said in a statement.
The Equatorial Guinea-flagged ship, headed from the Egyptian port of Damietta to Malta, began taking water about 7km (4 miles) offshore in the Gulf of Gabes and the engine room was engulfed.
The defence, interior, transport, and customs ministries were working to avoid “a marine environmental disaster in the region and limit its impact”, authorities said earlier.
The environment ministry said the ship’s situation was “alarming” and it put in place an “urgent national intervention plan” to avoid a disaster.