CW 899 frontGREENPEACE and scientists are calling for urgent Government action to control an oil slick which is set to hit the Canary Islands in the next couple of days.

Last week, Russian ship the Oleg Naydenov, spewed 1,400 tonnes of fuel into the Atlantic after sinking 15 miles off the coast of Maspalomas.

The vessel had caught fire the previous weekend and was towed into port, only for the fire to intensify. She was then moved 15 miles out to sea and deliberately scuttled because experts believed that any oil would travel south and away from the shore.

However, despite most of the spillage moving as anticipated, some of the oil separated from the main spill and was moved back towards Gran Canaria on strong tides.

A small slick has moved closer to the south and west coast over the last few days and it is understood that it could reach beaches as early as today (Friday).

The Steering Committee of the Contingency Plan for Marine Pollution Canarias (PECMAR)  has been in place for the last week.

At the time of the sinking, the level was 0, which is the lowest, but yesterday (Thursday) the  emergency level was raised to 2, which is when the spill could affect the coastline. This is the medium vulnerability ranking.

Greenpeace has been quick to react, and its boat has been tracking the spill and the environmental damage all week.

Along with marine pollution experts from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) they are in the area where the Oleg Naydenov sank.

In a statement, Greenpeace said: “We are here to witness the state of the spill and clean up operations, which are being carried out. “We are collaborating with the ULPGC in sampling the characteristics of the fuel and contamination level. The sooner the characterisation of fuel is known, the sooner we will know the toxicity on wildlife and ecosystems. We urge the government to do all they can as quickly as possible.”

Greenpeace revealed yesterday (Thursday) that the environment near the beach at Veneguera was under threat.

The area, one of the few spaces left undeveloped on Gran Canaria, is included in the Natura 2000 network, protected by the European Union because of the presence of turtles and the endangered bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

Greenpeace flew over the area yesterday and reported that the spill currently has three fronts: the area of ??the sinking of the Oleg Naydenov; the larger or main oil , which is nearly 200km south-west of Gran Canaria, and the third area, which is just off the coastal area of Mogan.

Meanwhile, Jesus Cisneros, professor of marine pollution at the physics department at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, called for immediate action.

“Those who best know the environment of this area and specialise in these waters, know that the processes of contamination has begun.”

Greenpeace spokesman Luis Ferreirim said: “To our eyes, and those who are concerned with the disaster, what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. We demand strong measures to minimise the impacts of the spill – and as soon as possible.”

The Minister in charge, Ana Pastor, has been in Gran Canaria since the Oleg Naydenov sunk last week, and she has been co-ordinating the cleaning.

She confirmed that the fuel slick was just a few kilometres from the coast of Veneguera, in Mogan, and that it has an area of  around four miles.

Addressing the media at a press conference, she told them: “Although there is no evidence yet of whether the slick has come from the Russian trawler which sunk 15 miles South of Gran Canaria, it is something we are working on. I am told that there are small patches of fuel, trash heaps and such.”

She added that experts were examining the slick to ascertain how much damage it could cause.

The slick’s presence was discovered by a Canarian Government helicopter, sent to explore the problem and search for wildlife which could be affected.

Upon discovery of the slick, the Punta Salinas and the Guardamar Talia ships were dispatched to the area.

They specialise in the containment of such oil spillages, and they linked up with the Luz de Mar.

This vessel was the first to arrive and, as we go to print, it has already extracted 287 cubic metres of fuel.

A fourth ship, the Miguel de Cervantes, is expected to join in the clean-up today (Frida)y.

While there is a rush to prevent any fuel from hitting the beaches and dry land and, of course, minimise any damage to the marine population, the blame game has begun.

It is still not clear why the Oleg Naydenov was ordered to be sunk when some reports suggest the fire on the vessel was containable and the boat was “safe” in port.

Local officials are demanding answers to “some key issues which have not been clarified” and are baffled that the ship was allowed to leave Puerto de la Luz.

Then there is the question of why the ship, which caught fire off the west coast of Fuerteventura, was, ultimately, allowed to sink off the south coast of Gran Canaria.


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