Freighter threatens oil spill off Croatia

A burning Turkish cargo ship with 1,000 tonnes of crude oil aboard was drifting towards Croatia’s Adriatic coast on Wednesday, threatening to pollute tourist beaches.

Firefighters, including Dutch experts in fighting ship fires, were trying to extinguish the blaze which broke out aboard the ship close to Croatian territorial waters early on Wednesday, officials said.

All 22 crew members and passengers had been rescued by a passing Greek ship and taken to Venice in Italy.

“The situation is dangerous but it’s under control at the moment,” Croatian Sea and Transport Minister Bozidar Kalmeta said before heading to the region.

” An additional difficulty is that the currents are carrying the ship towards the coast.”

Emergency officials said that a northernly wind expected to start overnight was likely to keep the ship away from the coast. They also said that firefighters might be able to extinguish the blaze by Thursday.

“We know there are 1,000 tonnes of crude oil on the ship and small quantities of other dangerous materials,” the minister said, without elaborating.

He said he believed there was no danger of an explosion aboard the ship but warned a blast would have “disastrous consequences”, state news agency Hina reported.

A five-man team of firefighters from the Netherlands with experience in fighting ship fires arrived in Croatia and was flown by helicopter to help Croatian firefighters at the scene. The team was hired by Turkish shipowner.

“The ship’s stern is completely destroyed, while its prow is still burning,” Kalmeta’s ministry said in an earlier statement.

The statement said the 193-metre (633 ft)-long ship Und Adriyatik was sailing from Istanbul to Trieste carrying “200 trucks and nine tonnes of dangerous material”.

Tug boats were cooling the shell of the Turkish ship to prevent it from melting and allowing the ship’s cargo to pollute the sea.

The accident happened 13 nautical miles west of the northern Adriatic town of Rovinj. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Croatia’s economy is driven by tourism. The country declared a protected zone off its coast last month to conserve fish stocks and counter any pollution threat from the hundreds of oil tankers passing by annually on their way to ports including Trieste.