Five weeks after a Slovak tug crashed and sunk in the flood-swollen waters of the Danube River near Vienna killing eight Slovak crewmen, a new alert has been issued which could lead to major environmental problems, Austrian authorities said.
Investigators probing the incident have discovered that the Slovak-registered ship was carrying 750 tons of salmonella-contaminated fish meal from Peru. Hundreds of poisonous sacks are still unrecovered, many lying open on the Danube's banks where they could be especially dangerous to members of the public.
Photographs appearing in Viennese newspapers have shown hazardous waste removal experts covered head-to-toe in protective suits picking the contaminated bags out of the river or scooping them up from land.
Officials at Slovenská Plavba Dunajská (Slovak Shipping Authority) issued an oblique statement when news of the contaminated fishmeal became public. "When the boat was loaded at a dock in the Netherlands, it received a certificate, which proves that it was not contaminated," SPD's statement read. "That is why SPD thinks that this information is misleading."
However, there is no proof that the fishmeal may have contracted salmonella during the Ďumbier's passage from the Dutch port to its tragic end downstream. Asked if that were a possibility, an SPD official said he could not comment, referring all questions to the company's spokesman, Juraj Bohunský, who he said was sick and to the director, who he said was out of the country until December.
Soon after the accident, bags of the fishmeal were pulled from the river and set out on the Danube's banks, without any protective barriers. Vienna City Authorities graded the sacks of fish meal as "completely harmless."
Later, however, scientists discovered a small number of sacks that were contaminated, a number which rapidly grew when the consignment note listed that there were actually 15,000 bags of fish meal on board and not just 2000 as was originally thought.
Vienna city officials' lackadaisical efforts at keeping the sacks away from the public prompted one leading national politician to accuse the local government of a "negligent playing-down and an attempt to hush things up." An investigation into the accident is currently underway and is expected to report some time in December.
Compiled by Richard Lewis from CEN and with special reporting by Andrea Lörinczová.
4. Dec 1996 at 0:00