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Tunisia detains crew of ship that sank off its coast this month

Tunisia's Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui (C) tours the port of the southeastern Gulf of Gabes, after a tanker carrying 750 tonnes of diesel fuel from Egypt to Malta sank off the coast, on April 16, 2022 [AFP via Getty Images]
Tunisia's Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui (C) tours the port of the southeastern Gulf of Gabes, after a tanker carrying 750 tonnes of diesel fuel from Egypt to Malta sank off the coast, on April 16, 2022 [AFP via Getty Images]

A Tunisian judge detained seven crew members of a commercial ship that sank off the coast of the southern city of Gabes this month, a judicial official said on Wednesday, as authorities investigated whether the ship may have been deliberately sunk, Reuters reports.

Tunisian officials said, this month, that the ship, the Xelo, sank while heading from Equatorial Guinea to Malta carrying up to 1,000 tonnes of oil and the Tunisian navy had rescued all seven crew members.

Officials later said a specialised diving team sent to counter a potential environmental disaster found the ship cargo did not contain fuel, but rather was empty.

"The investigative judge issued a detention decision against the ship's crew," said Mohamed Karay, a spokesman for the Gabes court.

Karay had previously said an investigation was being conducted to determine if the ship sank under normal circumstances or was sunk to obtain compensation from insurance companies, and to look into the possibility of oil smuggling.

The crew of the ship were four Turks, two Azerbaijanis and one from Georgia.

The crew claimed the ship's route documentation had been lost, and that there was a conflict in the information they provided, Karay said.

Reuters could not immediately contact the crew, the shipowner or their legal representatives.

READ: UN seeks $144m to salvage oil tanker off Yemen coast

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