Santorini’s Pending Environmental Disaster

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Raising the Coasta Concordia from the waters of Italy’s Giglio Island cost an estimated $2 billion dollars. But now experts, environmentalists and residents of Santorini, a popular Greek holiday destination, are calling for the same scale of operation for the MS Sea Diamond, a 470 foot cruise ship lost off the island in 2007 after striking a well-known volcanic reef.

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Some 1,195 passengers (largely American and Canadian) and 391 crew were evacuated, though two french passengers died. Damage control teams were unable to save the Sea Diamond, and the ship turned over and sank over a steep-sloped ocean bottom. Her bow now rests in 200 feet of water (approximately the same depth as the Costa Concorida) but her stern reaches a depth of nearly 600 feet.

Now lost for nearly ten years, the head of the Crete-based monitoring team has warned that hull degradation has increased the level of fuel and engine oil escaping from the wreck to an “alarming” rate, potentially overwhelming the inflatable floating berm designed to capture the runoff. A slow-motion environmental disaster may now been in the works.

“The rudimentary pollution barrier that has been placed at sea level is not adequate to collect all the substances that are being released. If the ship is left as is, a biological disaster will befall the caldera. Something needs to be done at once.” – Evangelos Gidarakos, Technical University of Crete

But any recovery of the wreck itself will not be easy. She sits atop a steep volcanic slope, and any removal of buoyant fuel may disturb her from her current resting place. Given her steep angle, any recovery operation may represent an effort of vastly greater expense and complication than her recently-recovered counterpart.

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Challenging logistics aside, Santorini mayor Nikos Zorzos is insisting on a solution. “People are concerned,” he said. “They want a solution. Anyone opposed to raising the wreck needs to come up with an alternative, not just leave it there.”

With the MS Sea Diamond just one of thousands of similar wrecks across the world, a better system of monitoring and remediation has become increasingly critical. A sunken oil-carrying barge in Lake Erie forced an emergency investigation, and there are no doubt many more unknown shipwrecks that pose comparable dangers.

Taylor Zajonc | Author, Historian & Shipwreck Expert

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