“Ecological catastrophe” in Sea of Azov

With the despoilation of San Francisco Bay still in the headlines, comes far worse news from the Sea of Azov. This should give pause just after Russia has announced a series of new oil hubs in the Arctic Passage—newly opened to ship traffic due to global warming. From Environment News Service, Nov. 11:

MOSCOW – Stormy seas and gale-force winds in the narrow Kerch Strait between Russia and Ukraine have smashed a Russian oil tanker in half, spilling at least 2,000 metric tonnes of fuel oil, the Russian Ministry for Emergencies said Sunday. Environmentalists and Russian officials are calling it the worst oil spill in the region for decades and “an ecological catastrophe.”

The Kerch Strait divides Russia to the east from Ukraine to the west and also separates the shallow Sea of Azov to the north from the deeper Black Sea to the south.

The oil tanker Volganeft-139 broke up in Ukraine waters near the port of Kazkav in the middle of the Kerch Strait.

Loaded with 4,000 metric tons of fuel oil, the tanker was on its way from the port of Azov in the southern Russian region of Rostov to Kerch in Ukraine’s eastern Crimea.

Despite 18 foot high waves, the tanker’s 13 crew members were rescued, the emergency ministry said.

In the second shipwreck at the same port on Sunday, two freighters carrying sulfur sank. The first vessel’s crew and three crewmembers from the second ship, the Nakhichevan, have been rescued. “The fate of eight sailors from the Nakhichevan is not known,” a ministry spokesman said.

Nearly seven thousand tons of sulfur fell into the sea as a result, the emergency ministry said today.

The Kavkaz port authorities now are taking measures to relocate 50 vessels to safer areas due to the worsening of weather conditions, according to the Russian Transport Ministry.

Two crewmembers have died and one is missing after a Russian cargo ship sank off the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Ukraine, the emergencies ministry said on Sunday. The cargo ship loaded with metal sank on the night of November 10-11. Fourteen crew members were rescued, the official said.

The same storm cracked the hull of another tanker, the Volganeft-123, and now officials are saying that as many as 10 ships sank or ran aground in the Strait of Kerch and in the nearby area of the Black Sea overnight Saturday and on Sunday.
The severe weather is making it impossible for emergency workers to collect the spilled oil, which is sinking to the sea floor. It is uncertain whether or not the ship is still leaking.

“There is serious concern that the spill will continue,” Oleg Mitvol told Vesti 24 television. Calling it a “serious ecological incident,” Mitvol, who heads the Russian Natural Resources Ministry’s environmental inspectorate, said “several years” would be needed to clean the spill.

Vladimir Slivyak, head of the group Ecodefense based in Moscow, said the effect of the oil spill will be very serious for the whole marine ecosystem.

President of the Russian environmental group Green Cross, the academician Sergey Baranovskiy, said that the sunken load of sulfur is more harmful to the environment than even the oil spill. The flood of oil – this is a large problem, he said, but an even larger problem is the sunken load of sulfur.

See our last post on the global struggle for control of oil.