Corrupt. Highly bribable. Dishonest. Bloated. Inept. These are the words I’ve heard to describe the Greek government. The September 10 oil spill – 2500 tons of oil sank in 15 minutes – and the events that followed sure lend themselves to proving these descriptions true.
On 15 September after school, Demetri and Peter took the paddle board down to the end of the block, and were back 10 minutes later with oil on their feet and the board. There were clumps of tar and oil in the water and sand and on the rocks. My happy Instagram (kfefes) post Friday afternoon was irrelevant (and sad) by 345 pm.
The tanker was anchored off the island of Salamina, near the port of Piraeus, Greece’s largest, busiest port. Nobody seems to know why it sank or how much fuel escaped into the water before divers sealed the wreck, but they didn’t move fast to contain it. The oil has polluted the entire Athens coast and there is no swimming. We’re totally crushed, of course, because it’s still very much summer here and the beaches are quite nice along the “Athens Riviera” where we live. Several of the nearby beaches have earned the prestigious ‘blue flag’ designation – an international certification that a beach or marina meets stringent water quality and sustainability standards on an annual basis. Blue flag is now useless and it could take months – some say years – to clean the beaches and the water. Ecological damage is said to be incalculable.
Floating booms to contain the oil have been set up and 20ish other ships are helping with cleanup. From what we can see, one of the booms has broken. The guy in charge of cleanup has been arrested for smuggling oil; and that hullabaloo caused the cleanup to be suspended earlier this week.
Lots about this is hard to understand. Nobody (authorities) seemed to panic. They underestimated the scale of the spill and didn’t move quickly to assess and contain. Blame is flying to the boat’s captain, to the merchant marine minister, to the controversial prime minister. The minister of Agriculture issued a ninny statement saying blame lies with ‘everyone around the world who uses fuel and oil.’ And it’s astounding to see the people of all ages who continue to swim, swearing the water is fine. 10 days after the spill, there was a photograph of a woman covered in tar from the waist down on a beach just north of us. Another person reported that he made a corridor to avoid stepping on tar that still gave him access to the sea. Perhaps they believed the Shipping Minister who, 4 days after the spill, said officially that it was safe to swim. Last Monday, we went to beautiful Vouliagmeni beach, just a few miles down the road from us, because they had reported clean, unpolluted conditions due to the protected nature of the area. There was an oily film across the surface of the water. Beach authorities are claiming it’s not polluted. It’s hard to know what’s true and not.
We’ve been surprised at both the defiance of the locals who refuse to stop swimming and the lack of public outcry. I guess it’s the same thing. There’s no BP-esque camera monitoring all the cleanup. It was news for a few days, but in the last week, the only updated reports I can find (other than a brief story about political arguments and party denouncements in Parliament relating to the spill) are from US media. Greek media is essentially controlled by the state. Mayors of certain affected cities, plus the WWF, have filed suits against anyone responsible. Fish consumption is down 60%, fishing related businesses are making severe cuts, and environmental damage won’t be known for a while. It’s going to be interesting to watch this unfold and become a case study for the greek ‘system.’ I hope they get it right and surprise everyone.
In other news, Demetri replaced our broken toilet seat. The new one is bright green; he felt it worked nicely with the navy blue sink and tub. Not false, but I don’t think we’re on the same page.
A few recent photos. Moana artwork by Peter.