Emergency workers are trying to prevent 20,000 tonnes of oil from sinking down to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and reaching the coasts of Turkey and Northern Cyprus.

A massive fuel oil leak that occurred last week from a faulty power plant in Baniyas, located on Syria’s Mediterranean coast could head towards Turkey and cause disastrous consequences in the sea, environmental groups and experts warned on Wednesday. 

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the 20,000 tonnes of oil that is moving in the Mediterranean sea may have “potentially devastating” consequences for marine biodiversity and ecosystems, especially along the coastline of Cyprus and Turkey.

“The recent accident represents a further reminder about the major risks associated with hydrocarbon extraction and processing in the semi enclosed basin of the Mediterranean, which does not allow the dispersion of oil pollutants and where the consequences of such accidents can cause long-term negative effects on coastal ecosystems and communities,” WWF said.

Turkey and Northern Cyprus are currently working together to prevent oil slick from Syria from spreading to the Karpas coast of Northern Cyprus with emergency teams aiming to control the slick in the open sea before it reaches the shores. The oil already appeared to reach some shores but  thanks to shifting winds, it moved away from northern Cyrus towards Syria on Wednesday. 

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 31, 2021 shows people cleaning Syria's Mediterranean coast following an oil leak from the Baniyas power plant.
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 31, 2021 shows people cleaning Syria's Mediterranean coast following an oil leak from the Baniyas power plant. (AFP)

Danger remains

The danger in the sea, however, remains. The slick, which can be observed through satellite imagery, is still in the sea, and the wind could shift again. Some oil has already begun to solidify and sink to the bottom of the sea.

Prof Dr Cemal Turan, Dean of the Faculty of Marine Sciences and Technology in Iskenderun Technical University told TRT that “If the seep sinks to the seafloor, the bay will be affected for years.”

“When it sinks to the bottom, this oil kills microorganisms, which we call primary consumers in the ecosystem. If these die at the base, the other consumers at the top are also starving. As a result of starvation, the descendants of these creatures are also in danger,” Turan said on Wednesday.

Northern Cyprus Tourism and environment undersecretary Serhan Aktunc said beachgoers should avoid swimming until Friday.

According to the modelling study of Turan’s department in Iskenderun University, the oil spill is particularly threatening the coasts of Iskenderun and Mersin, southern cities in Turkey, as a result of the small Asian current system blowing to the northwest and northeast.

“We predict that it will first reach the Akyatan side and Yumurtalık Lagoons when it reaches. Then there is the risk of reaching the Dörtyol and İskenderun beaches,” he said. 

What to do? Barriers, marine pads, vacuuming 

Cleaning up the leak is vital, and there are few ways to move forward. Turan suggests laying the marine pads on the surface and absorbing the oil as the most effective method. 

“Precautions can be taken by creating barriers with marine pads to keep the oil spill at the surface before it settles to the bottom of the sea,” Turan said, adding that Vacuuming systems are also used in cleaning work.

But more importantly, such disasters should be prevented in the first place, WWF said.

The organisation urged the Mediterranean countries to adopt a longer-term energy vision by setting clear targets for future energy use and exploring alternative energy sources to oil and gas. It also urged phase-out existing while banning new oil and gas exploration, extraction and processing projects. 

“Stronger regulations to prevent such accidents, in particular through the ratification and effective implementation of the relevant Protocols of the Barcelona Convention (including the Offshore Protocol, Land Based Sources Protocol, Prevention and Emergency Protocol),” should be enforced, WWF said.

A crisis desk has been set up in the Northern Cyprus Prime Ministry to monitor the progression of the oil slick towards the island. Three ships with equipment sent by Turkey are also ready for an emergency action, according to Vice President of Turkey, Fuat Oktay.

Oktay said the air and sea forces of the Coast Guard Command were planning to carry out flights in order to determine the current position of the slick in the sea.

Source: TRT World