Syrian oil spill moving towards Cyprus appears to partially dissolve

Spill was threatening island’s Karpas peninsula, but pieces have detached and fate now depends on sea currents

A large oil slick that had been working its way across the Mediterranean towards Cyprus, following a spill in Syria, appears to have partially dissolved although its next move will depend on currents.

The spill, likened in size to New York City, had threatened the island’s Karpas peninsula, a strip of pristine beaches and verdant hills in the Turkish-controlled north, after seeping into the sea from a power plant in Syria nine days ago.

On Wednesday authorities in Cyprus and Turkey remained on alert as officials continued to monitor the situation amid fears the leak would wreck fragile ecosystems.

“It seems that small parts have detached,” the Greek Cypriot agriculture minister, Costas Kadis, was quoted as saying by local media. “That was the image we got from satellite images we received from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). We want to make sure of the extent.”

A police helicopter and a fisheries department vessel were both in the area, he said.

An EU member state, Cyprus has been partitioned since 1974 when a coup aimed at union with Greece prompted Turkey to invade and seize its northern third.

As concerns mounted earlier in the week, Turkish Cypriot officials erected what local media described as a 400-metre barrier off the Karpas peninsula to prevent the slick reaching its shores.

Crews were reportedly cleaning parts of the spill that had broken off, with the Turkish Cypriot infrastructure minister saying clumps of oil had become stuck to the seabed, which could be environmentally catastrophic.

In the island’s south, the Greek Cypriot government requested an oil recovery vessel from the EMSA, which was also on standby. By Wednesday, Kadis, the Greek Cypriot agriculture minister, said the main oil slick was headed towards Turkey and Syria.

But Turkish officials confirmed the spill had yet to reach the country’s shores. “Currently there is no pollution that has spread to Turkey or northern Cypriot coasts,” said Ankara’s transport minister, Adil Karaismailoğlu.

In the event of an emergency, two ships had been deployed to the island equipped with oil absorbent pads and containment tanks, he said.

According to the official Syrian Arab News Agency, the spill was attributed to a faulty tank at a thermal power station in the city of Baniyas on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Local media reported the slick had floated along the country’s coast, sullying several stretches of water.


Helena Smith in Athens

The GuardianTramp

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