Oil spill in pristine northern Cyprus coastline threatens wildlife, tourism

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Clean-up efforts were underway after a tanker spilled more than 100 tonnes of fuel oil near a pristine coastline in northern Cyprus, threatening wildlife and tourism facilities, officials said on Wednesday.

The spill occurred early on Tuesday as the tanker offloaded fuel at a power station in the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north of the Mediterranean island, Turkish Cypriot Environment Minister Mehmet Harmanci told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The tanker was delivering fuel to the Kalecik power plant owned by Aksa Enerji, the Istanbul-based electricity producer said in a statement to the Istanbul stock exchange.

The company said close to 40 tonnes of fuel oil had spilled into the Mediterranean and that a barrier had been established to contain the spill. The reason for the disparity in the amount of fuel spilled was not immediately clear.

"The company says the spill occurred due to a problem with the pressure but it may have been due to an improper connection," Mr Harmanci said, adding that human error has not been ruled out.

The local authorities were struggling to contain the slick covering a 7km area along the Karpasia Peninsula, he said. Clean-up materials, including solvents, were being sent from Turkey by air but had been delayed.

A barrier has been established but officials are worried about further leakages and are seeking to extend it, Mr Harmanci said, describing the risk as "ongoing".

The Karpasia Peninsula is a nature reserve that serves as a breeding ground for rare turtles who lay their eggs in the sand in July and August.

The spill occurred near the town of Bafra, or Vokolida in Greek, whish is on the southern side of the Karpasia Peninsula.

"This is the most important time for spawning. Another risk are the facilities nearby in the town of Bafra, our biggest tourism area," Mr Harmanci said.

Cyprus has been divided between Turkish and Greek Cypriots since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded in the wake of a short-lived coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.

The Karpasia, which stretches for 80km in the north-east, boasts unspoilt beaches and a variety of wildlife.

It is one of the last undeveloped areas in Cyprus, spared the ravages of tourism by international sanctions that grind at the northern Cypriot economy.

Only Turkey recognises the Turkish Cypriot administration, while the rest of the world sees the Greek Cypriot government as the sole authority in the island.

Aksa said operations at the Kalecik power station were unaffected.

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