A salvage operation began on Sunday to prevent Castor -- a stricken petrol tanker lying off Spain -- from cracking open and spilling thousands of tons of gasoline into the western Mediterranean
, the flag state, said. "The salvor told us the salvage operation started today. He is quite optimistic that it will be successful," a senior surveyor at the Cypriot department of merchant shipping said. Authorities had earlier said the Castor might have to be blown up as a last resort if the salvage operation failed.
Castor has proven to be somewhat of an enigma, and is sure to raise the level of discussion around the world regarding ships in distress. Castor, laden with 29,500 tons of gasoline, developed a 20-metre (60-foot) crack in its deck on December 31. Since then it has approached Spain
, Gibraltar and Morocco in search of calm waters in which to remove the cargo. Each time it has been turned back amid fears that sparks could trigger a massive explosion. Castor is now in international waters some 55 miles off the Spanish coast. Cyprus had offered to take the vessel in, but has been advised against it by experts who say it is too long a journey for the Castor to be towed.
The salvage operation, in which the gasoline will be pumped off the Castor, is complicated by unpredictable weather and rough open seas.
"It all depends on the weather," said Captain Andreas Constantinou, the Cypriot surveyor. "They will start discharging from the tanks where there is damage and the process is expected to be very slow."
The 26-man crew left the tanker on January 5 on a rescue vessel chartered by the owners, Athenian Sea Carriers. The vessel had sailed from Ukraine on December 24 and was on its way to Lagos, Nigeria, when it developed a crack on deck after a storm. - (Reuters)