But what was the ship doing xelo in Mediterranean ? Oil spill fears are dwindling after the sinking of the oil tanker which sank on April 16 in Tunisian territorial waters, 7 kilometers from Gabès, with 750 tonnes of diesel on board. But questions are piling up about the nature of the activity of this 45-year-old vessel, which was flying the flag of Equatorial Guinea.
On April 20, the public prosecutor at the court in Gabès prohibited the seven Georgian, Turkish and Azerbaijani crew members, saved from the sinking, from leaving Tunisian soil for a fortnight, renewable, while the investigation is ongoing.
The lies of the crew
The day before, the Egyptian port of Damietta denied the information, announced by the crew and initially taken over by the Tunisian government, according to which the xelo would have left the Egyptian coast to make way for Malta. “The Port Authority of Damietta announced that the aforementioned vessel had never been received in port and therefore the port of Damietta was not the port of departure for the sinking vessel”, she posted on her Facebook page. And why was the ship off Tunisia if it was heading for Malta?
This Egyptian denial adds to the many inconsistencies and gaps around this shipwreck. Thus the crew is not in possession of the bill of lading, this document on which all the information relating to the cargo is recorded. He would have remained on board the ship. The Tunisian press evokes the hypothesis of knowingly destroyed documents.
A stopover for repairs in Sfax
The tanker had all the less left Damietta as it anchored for four days in the Tunisian port of Sfax from April 4 to 8. The Tunisian Ministry of Transport specified that it was moored there “to change the crew and carry out some light repairs without commercial operations”. The tanker was, it seems, hardly seaworthy. The specialized site The Maritime Executive reports a “a long list of deficiencies and immobilizations, including a two-week immobilization in Neapoli, Greece, last February”.
The tanker left Sfax on April 9. Then he reappeared on April 14 a little further south, off the Gulf of Gabes, from where he sent a distress signal on April 15 and asked the Tunisian authorities to enter territorial waters to take shelter. bad weather. On the morning of the 16th, it was taking on water and sinking rapidly.
“This ship did not want to be tracked”
However, in the meantime, the records of the automatic identification system (AIS), which allows identification and location in real time, are missing, reports the information site on the economy of the sea Blue Economy.
“This ship did not want to be tracked, it is extremely suspicious, was it a smuggling ship? », asks activist Mounir Hassine, from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, who closely follows pollution at sea.
→ PORTRAIT. Tunisia: Mounir Hassine, to the rescue of the bay of Monastir
Tunisian justice has opened an investigation to determine the causes of the accident but also the nature of the oil tanker’s activity and its route in recent weeks.