Bulgarian activists have expressed their environmental concern over a shipwreck containing dangerous nitrogen fertilizers.
The cargo ship Vera SU, which contains more than 3,000 tonnes of nitrogen fertilizer, is considered to be sunk off the northern coast of Bulgaria.
Divers have also been dispatched to inspect the ship, where it is stranded on the rocks near the Yaylata nature reserve.
The interim government of the EU member state has said that the ship is currently in a stable position and the situation is under control.
But environmentalists have raised concerns about the local ecosystem, given that some of the fertilizers may have been submerged in the water for several days.
The Yaylata Nature Reserve is home to many protected seabirds and endangered marine species.
“The engine compartment of the cargo ship is flooded, there are holes in the hull of the ship,” said Ventsislav Ivanov, executive director of the Maritime Administration Agency.
“The ship can no longer be salvaged,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Shipwreck caused by a navigation error
According to the first investigations, the Vera SU ran aground due to errors by the ship’s crew.
The freighter was sailing from Ukraine to the port of Varna when it got stuck off the Black Sea coast on September 20.
The Bulgarian National Investigation Service, which is in charge of the investigation, says the accident was likely due to the negligent actions of the ship’s “watch officer”.
“Based on the evidence collected so far, it can be concluded that the duty officer fell asleep for 15 to 20 minutes and did not reach the recommended point for the boat to change course,” the authority said.
The Vera SU was traveling at around 7 knots at the time of the collision and was severely damaged. None of the nine crew on board was injured.
Since then, the ship’s captain and second officer have been in custody following the incident.
Prosecutors have accused the two of causing an accident, substantial property damage and endangering other people’s lives.
So far, attempts to unload the 3,300 tonnes of nitrogen fertilizer cargo from the Vera SU have been unsuccessful.
Although weather conditions are improving, environmental concerns have been raised about the delay in the rescue operation.
‘Irreversible effects’ on the ecosystem
NGOs, including Greenpeace, have expressed anger that the Bulgarian authorities did not act on the shipwreck for several days, due to a dispute with the owner of Vera SU.
“We are outraged by the lack of a clear action plan, the apparent carelessness and the delay in the operation,” Greenpeace Bulgaria said in a statement.
“If the discharge of cargo into seawater continues … it will inevitably lead to long-lasting and irreversible effects on the ecological balance and ecosystems in the area.”
Greenpeace says that analysis of local seawater indicates the presence of contamination. The levels of nitrogen compounds in the water are close to the levels you would expect to see in urban sewers, the NGO said.
“Releasing the 3,300 tonnes of nitrogen fertilizers on board into the sea would be equivalent to discharging the sewage from most settlements on the Black Sea coast at a single point in the Yayla area,” Greenpeace said.
“From what we have seen so far, there is a lack of preparation, equipment and a lack of an action plan, which we find unacceptable.”
‘Absolutely inexplicable negligence’
After several days, the Bulgarian authorities sent a floating crane to the north coast of the Black Sea to begin unloading cargo from the stranded Vera SU.
But amid bad weather conditions, some quantities were thrown into the sea and the operation was suspended.
The country’s interim government has stated that its priorities are to prevent potential environmental damage and protect human health.
But Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has said the country was not prepared to deal with such an incident.
in a statement on Monday, Radev blamed the issue on Bulgaria’s “vicious and wasteful governance model” for years.
“All these bodies, built over the years by the previous rulers, with people appointed by them, were not prepared, nor organized, nor was there any equipment,” he told reporters.
Greenpeace Bulgaria spokesman Petko Tsvetkov told national television that the authorities have shown “absolutely inexplicable negligence”.
“This will lead to algal blooms, the accumulation of toxins, including the removal of oxygen from the marine environment, and the massive death of marine life,” he said.
“There will be a direct impact on the protected areas – in Yaila, in Kaliakra, in the reserve and its water area.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism