Syrian oil spill moves away from northern Cyprus

Nicosia (AFP) –


An oil slick spreading from a Syrian power plant pulled away from the breakaway north of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on Wednesday thanks to shifting winds.

The internationally isolated government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) -- recognised only by Ankara -- has been watching for days as an estimated 20,000 tonnes of fuel oil drifts toward the region's northeastern tip.

Emergency workers tried to contain the spillage by roping it off with booms tossed from ships some 15 nautical miles (28 kilometres) off the shore.

Top ministers had warned that at least some of the oil could reach the scenic Karpaz peninsula on Friday.

But they sounded more positive after noticing that winds had begun pushing the oil back up north and away from the coast.

"The weather conditions continue to be in our favour," tourism and environment undersecretary Serhan Aktunc said.

The minister added that beachgoers should remain "vigilant" until Friday in case the winds change direction again.

"There is no problem in our sea now," he said.

But Aktunc and other officials warned that marine life remained threatened because some of the oil had started to solidify and sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Republic of Cyprus -- whose overwhelming majority are Greek Cypriots and which has been a European Union member since 2004 -- has effective control over the southern two-thirds of the island.

Officials there on Wednesday reported detecting traces of oil some 30 nautical miles off its eastern-most coast.

The TRNC government has relied almost exclusively on financial and other assistance from Turkey since breaking away in 1974.

Turkey has already sent two ships to help contain and collect the spillage.

Turkish transport and environment ministers have also been advising the North about how to respond.

Officials in war-torn Syria have provided few details about what may have caused fuel to start leaking from the oil-operated Baniyas Thermal Station last week.

Syria's electricity minister had told a pro-government newspaper Monday that the size of the leak ranged from two to four tonnes of fuel.