A fuel laden ship carrying approximately 750 tonnes of diesel sank in the Gulf of Gabes while travelling from Egypt to Malta. The ship had apparently experienced some difficulty which could result in a heavy "environmental disaster," according to some Tunisian authorities.
The Equatorial Guinea-flagged Xelo was travelling from the Egyptian port of Damietta to the European island of Malta when owing to bad weather it had to request entry to Tunisian waters on Friday evening. The Tunisian Ministry of Environment described the merchant ship's situation to be "alarming" as they had to enforce an "urgent national intervention plan" to avoid any unforeseen accidents.
On Saturday, Mohamed Karray, a spokesman for a local court, confirmed, "the ship sank this morning in Tunisian territorial waters. For the moment, there is no leak,", adding that a "disaster prevention committee will meet to decide on the measures to be taken".
According to ministry statements, the vessel started to sink when it was about 7 km from the coast of the Gulf of Gabes, the water started seeped into the engine room and within no time the level had risen up to two metres. The evacuation of the seven-person crew on board was carried out by the Tunisian authorities and the seven individuals were "briefly hospitalized for medical examination and then accommodated in a hotel."
Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui visited Gabes "to assess the situation... and make the necessary preventive decisions in coordination with regional authorities," the ministry said. The authorities have also activated "the national emergency plan for the prevention of marine pollution with the aim of controlling the situation and preventing the spread of pollutants."
The Tunisian Ministry of Environment confirms that the Ministries of Defense, Interior, Transport and Customs have begun working together to avoid "a marine environmental catastrophe in the region and limiting its repercussions."
The Gulf of Gabes, typically a fishing area, has been suffering from contamination due to phosphate processing industries situated near the city of Gabes, as per activists hence there is an urgency among the Tunisian authorities to prevent any more environmental damage to the gulf.