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Pakistan fears major spill as grounded tanker leaks

30th August 2003

Pakistan Daily Times

Pakistani authorities raced against time on Tuesday to drain a grounded Greek oil tanker as it leaked more crude oil, raising fears of another major spill.

The Tasman Spirit, grounded outside the channel leading to Karachi Port since July 27, has already spilled more than 15,000 tones of crude, killing marine life and damaging the once sandy beaches of the city.

“There was a light spill from the rear portion of the tanker,” said Brigadier Iftikhar Arshad, a senior official of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT).

The tanker, which broke in two earlier this month, was carrying around 67,500 tones of crude of which about 32,000 tones were drained. About 18,000 tones remains on the ship.

The bulk of the remaining oil is stored in the stern section of the tanker, which has been gradually sinking since Friday.

Efforts to stabilise it have so far failed because of rough seas whipped up by the monsoon and high swell in the Arabian Sea.

“There are fears that the rear portion will break soon,” said another senior KPT official. He added that the stern section was under tremendous strain from changing tides.

Brig Arshad, the official KPT spokesman, said the ship’s rear portion was leaning dangerously on one side. “Fears of another spill are there, but we are trying to empty the vessel before it happens,” he added.

Tasman Spirit’s spill, the worst in Pakistan, has devastated a 16km patch of Karachi’s eastern shore, threatening mangrove swamps and marine life.

President Pervez Musharraf visited the beach on Monday and directed the authorities to initiate speedy measures to prevent any further leaks and control the environmental damage.

The draining operation was delayed last week when the small salvage tanker Fair Jolly developed a hole in its hull.

A Pakistan Navy small oil tanker, Bahadur, with a capacity of just 500 tones, took over the operation and so far has transferred about 3,000 tones of crude. The pace of the operation is slow.

“On an average we transfer 1,500 tones of crude daily from the tanker,” said Brig Arshad.

Salvage operators have booked another ship, Sea Angel, with a capacity of 6,500 tonnes from the United Arab Emirates to speed up the operation. “Sea Angel will reach Pakistan in two days,” he added.