Strong winds, choppy waters delay start of Bulgaria’s operation to drain oil spill shipwreck

Strong winds and turbulent waters have delayed the start of an operation to drain heavy fuel oil from the shipwreck of the Mopang off the coast of the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Sozopol.

Bulgaria’s government has allocated close to 2.5 million leva for the operation, which is expected to last about 50 days, but which is dependent on weather conditions.

Captain Zhivko Petrov, of the Maritime Administration in Bourgas, said on August 23 that all available technology had been mobilised, but unfortunately, the weather did not allow the operation to start.

Ivailo Ivanov, a representative of the company that will drain the heavy fuel oil from the tanks of the wreck of the Mopang – an American vessel that sunk in 1921 and from which there recently has been an oil spill – said that divers would go down to a maximum depth of 31 metres.

“We are currently mobilising,” Ivanov said. “At any moment, the number of divers can be changed.”

The wreck of the Mopang is about two sea miles north of St Ivan Island. Divers who inspected the wreck earlier said that it is severely corroded.

In order to place the hoses to pump out the heavy fuel oil, the sea needs to be calm. The forecast is that conditions will be favourable at the beginning of next week. Until then, the team will carry out equipment checks and go over the details of what will be a complex and risky operation.

On August 23, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov visited the team in Sozopol.

Borissov said that the environment was a prime consideration while tourism was a main source of livelihood in the region.

He said that the government had provided almost three million leva for the operation. Borissov said that the government also had been offered the option of covering the ship in a sarcophagus.

“Finally, with the specialists, we came to the decision that we should, with the available equipment and human potential, and with the funding, pump the fuel to keep the ship as an attraction. It’s a US ship, sunk by a German mine. Divers and people who are engaged in this type of tourism love it,” Borissov said.

“We are convinced that we will be able to cope with this situation,” Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski said.

The assurances by Bulgarian government ministers that the environment and tourism are not endangered by the oil spill have been met with skepticism in some quarters.

Atanas Rusev, of the Save Coral coalition, highlighted incidents of oil coming out on the beach at Coral and elsewhere on the southern Black Sea coast. He made public satellite imagery showing oil slicks on the water, while photographs of clumps of oil also have been posted online.

Mihail Zaimov, a diver and expert on shipwrecks off Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, said that an ecological disaster already had happened.

(Photo: Bulgaria’s Transport Ministry)



The Sofia Globe staff

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