Oil spills as merchant ships collide off Uruguay

Greek merchant ship 'Syros' leaks fuel after colliding with Maltese vessel 'Sea Bird' 20 km (12 miles) off the Uruguayan coast June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Handout/Uruguayan Navy

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Merchant ships from Greece and Malta collided off the coast of Uruguay, dumping fuel oil from one of the vessels, Uruguay’s Navy said on Wednesday in a statement.

A government environmental official said the wind was blowing the “medium-sized” spill across the vast Rio de la Plata estuary towards Buenos Aires in Argentina. The estuary separates Uruguay and Argentina.

The accident occurred late on Tuesday between the Greek ship Syros and a Maltese vessel named Sea Bird, the latter of which had been anchored about 12 miles off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.

Local press reported no one was hurt in the crash.

A source at Uruguay’s national environmental agency told Reuters the Greek ship lost about 14,000 cubic meters of fuel oil after its fuel tank was ripped open.

“The spill is in the middle of the river and the wind is carrying it in the direction of southern Buenos Aires. We hope it doesn’t get there,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There’s less impact as long as the spill stays on the river, but if the fuel reaches land, the harm is greater,” the source said, adding that officials were working to dissolve the fuel oil into the water.

Reporting by Conrado Hornos; Writing by Hilary Burke; Editing by Cynthia Osterman