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Burning ship carrying 1,500 tons of fuel sinks off Gran Canaria

Analysts have criticized the decision to tow the Russian fishing vessel out to open sea

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Pesquero Oleg Naydenoy incendiado en Canarias
The Russian fishing vessel, viewed on Monday from an Air Force airplane.

A Russian fishing boat with nearly 1,500 tons of fuel oil in its tanks sank near a popular Canary Islands beach on Tuesday night.

The Oleg Naydenov went down 15 nautical miles south of Punta de Maspalomas, on the island of Gran Canaria, after authorities decided to tow it there for safety. The ship had caught fire inside the Port of Las Palmas last Saturday.

Common sense would dictate that any operation becomes more complicated in the open sea”

Enrique Pardo, Ecologistas en Acción

The vessel sank to a depth of 2,400 meters. While no fuel leaks were initially detected, local news outlet Canarias7 on Wednesday morning reported that maritime authorities had confirmed the existence of a few oil stains in the area where it sank, and that extracting the fuel now would be “extremely expensive.”

The decision to take the burning ship out to open sea has already been criticized by analysts who note that a spill would be harder to contain there, increasing the risk of an environmental disaster.

“Common sense would dictate that any operation becomes more complicated in the open sea, and that the chances of keeping an accident under control are much lower,” said Enrique Pardo, of environmental group Confederación de Ecologistas en Acción.

“That is why the general trend is to designate refuges in ports or bays to deal with ships in trouble,” he added.

Salvamento Marítimo, the sea rescue agency that answers to the Public Works Ministry, said it had deployed resources against any potential pollution.

The 120-meter Oleg Naydenov had been reported to EU authorities for illegal fishing by Greenpeace, and has been banned from working in Senegalese waters.

The fire began inside one of the ship’s boilers, and forced the evacuation of its 72 crew members, according to Canarias7.