Greek director facing oil spill charges

Company denies liability, blames tanker owner and five-minute hurricane

The general director of Greece's biggest oil refinery has been charged with negligence in connection with a serious oil spill near Corinth. The captain and first mate of an oil tanker have also been charged over the accident, which polluted large parts of the Saronikos bay between Corinth and Athens.

The spill happened last August while a tanker was delivering oil to a terminal owned by Motor Oil. Mooring lines broke in bad weather and the tanker crashed into a jetty, subsequently leaking 500 tonnes of oil into the surrounding waters.

Motor Oil, which is jointly owned by Saudi firm Aramco and family-owned group Vardiniyannis, denies responsibility for the incident. It says that faulty winches on the ship led to the mooring cables being released, for which the tanker owner is to blame.

Motor Oil's General Director, Constantine Vassilakis, today confirmed that he is facing charges. But he told ENDS Daily that "the company has no liability in this incident and we will show this." The charges were brought at the recommendation of the public attorney for the area after he examined an investigation report by the port authorities. A trial date has not yet been set.

Greenpeace Greece is campaigning against Motor Oil, which it says has one of the worst oil spill records of any Greek company. In November, Greenpeace International activists blockaded the company's Corinth terminal. It demanded an end to all operations during bad weather and called on the Government to ban the use of chemical oil dispersants in ecologically sensitive areas.

Balaclava-wearing Greek coastguard commandos ended the protest within 24 hours, arresting 17 activists and causing a national outcry over the force of the reaction. The activists are due to stand trial on 10 April for trespassing and hindering a public service firm. It is the first time Greenpeace has been prosecuted by Greek authorities.

Mr Vassilakis told ENDS Daily that Motor Oil already stops loading operations in bad weather and has an in-house meteorological station to warn of impending storms. He said a "sudden hurricane lasting five minutes which could not have been predicted" was the cause of last August's oil spill.

He also denied that the company has a poor environmental record. He said Greenpeace's claims stem from conscientious reporting by Motor Oil of many small spills - "one to five litres at most".

Follow Up:
Motor Oil: tel: +30 741 48602. Greenpeace Greece, tel: +30 1 384 0774.

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