Oil Covering a Beach - Black Sea Oil Spill 11/12/07

Photos by Igor GOLUBENKOV (NGO: Saving Taman)

November 12, 2006, on Tuzla Spit

 

ENVIRONMENTAL WATCH ON THE NORTH CAUCASUS

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Taman Tries the Taste of Oil

 

Guilt for the environmental catastrophe in the Strait of Kerch

lies with the authorities in Russia and Ukraine,

as well as with the companies transporting dangerous cargo

 

On November 11, 2007 in the Strait of Kerch on the anchorage

area No.450, located in the maritime administration of the Kerch

PortТs (Ukraine) area of responsibility, and also on the Taman

Handling Complex located in the maritime administration of the

Ports of Temriuk and Kavkaz (Russia) area of responsibility, a

massive shipwreck occurred, involving dangerous cargo. The reasons

for the accident included stormy weather, the lack of technical

preparedness of the ships to work in such weather conditions and

the disdain of the shipsТ captains when they were warned of the

storms.

The first catastrophe befell the tanker УVolgoneft-139Ф at the

anchorage area No.450, which had 4.77 thousands tons of fuel oil

on board. It literally split in two. Then, within the span of two

hours, one after the other, three ships loaded with sulfur

sank: "Volnogorsk", which had more than 2.6 tons of sulfur on

board; "Nakhichevan", with two thousands tons of sulfur; and

"Kovel", with 2.1 thousands tons of sulfur.

In addition, the Tanker "Volganeft-123" sustained damage, and

the barges "Dika" and "Dimetra," which were carrying fuel oil and

were not self-propelled, were wrecked by their anchors.

Fortunately, these accidents, according to the most current

information, did not lead to oil spills.

A colossal environmental catastrophe has ensued. A significant

part of the shoreline of the Taman Peninsula is immersed in

petroleum products. The Tuzla Spit, the Chushka Spit - on the side

of the Strait of Kerch - and the beaches near the villages of

Ilyich and Priazovskii are completely covered in oil (see the

photograph in the attachment). On the coast of the Sea of Azov oil

has reached the Cape of Kammenyi. On the shore of the Black Sea

oil has reached the village of Volna on the southern part of the

Taman Peninsula.

The critical nature of the catastrophic situation is increased

by the fact that the region suffering is exceptionally valuable

and vulnerable from the ecological perspective. The Strait of

Kerch is a body of water of the highest fisheries category as it

is the migration route for fish between the Azov and Black Seas,

including many species that are included in the Red Book of the

Russian Federation and Red List of the International Union for the

Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As a result of the oil pollution in

the sea, fish species have suffered colossal damage. Dolphins,

which are also protected in accordance with Russian and

International Red Books, also live in the polluted expanse of

water. The Taman-Zaporozhie Wildlife Preserve, which was created

in 1967, is also adjacent to the Strait of Kerch, and its natural

complexes have also suffered greatly. The entire Chushka Spit, the

whole western bank and southern end of which are covered with oil,

are part of this protected area, which was designated a specially

protected territory of the shores of the Black and Azov Seas by

the government of the Russian Federation in 1996, a standing which

has federal significance. The Wildlife Preserve was created, first

and foremost, to protect birds. Tens of thousands of birds have

already died as a result of oil pollution. And at least as many

are covered with a layer of oil and are destined for death. There

are no plans to save them.

Analyzing the reasons for what has happened, the representatives

of the authorities of Russia and Ukraine do not speak about the

main reasons for the catastrophe, which lie not with the surface

of the force majeur of the weather conditions and the mistakes of

the ship captains. For these reasons are their own decisions.

The roots of what happened lie with the fact that in 1999, in

the Strait of Kerch at the Russian Port Kavkaz, the Taman Handling

Complex in fact a new "floating" oil-chemical port, was built,

through which petroleum products, sulfur and fertilizers are

transferred from small sized boats to those that hold many tons.

The Ukrainian Port of Kerch also began additional commercial

transport at the anchorage areas No.450 in 2001. As a result, a

large number of ships with dangerous cargo are always in the

commercial lanes of the Strait of Kerch. Thus, because of the

extremely difficult conditions for navigation in the Strait of

Kerch, such as shallow water, high winds (storm winds with a speed

greater than 15 meters/second are noted in the region on an

average of 28 percent of the days of the year), a lack of any kind

of natural shelter for the boats, the possibility of the rapid

formation of water spouts, an accident was bound to happen sooner

or later. Such an oil and chemical port should never have been

created in the Strait of Kerch.

The motivation for such a decision was the greater economic

benefit from transport of such dangerous cargo. Environmental

risks accompanying the commercial transfer of such dangerous cargo

through the Strait of Kerch were considered secondary. The

interests of private companies interested in transferring

dangerous cargo for state organs were considered to be more

important than environmental protection.

Therefore, effective systems to liquidate oil spills were not

created either in the Port Kavkaz or in the Kerch Port. These

ports were not equipped with the necessary technical equipment to

collect spilled oil. The Port Kavkaz does not even have the

ability to collect oil in the event of an oil spill, and

currently, there is nowhere to put the spilled oil, which will be

collected.

The authorities and the companies are also guilty because ships

were used for transport of dangerous cargo in the Strait of Kerch,

which were not technically suited for use in difficult storm

conditions. If they had not used them, the hull of the Tanker

"Volgoneft-139" would not have split in two.

The enormous oil pollution in the sea is, without a doubt, the

most serious consequence of maritime activity that has occurred in

the Strait of Kerch. But the seven thousand tons of sulfur that

are now lying on the floor of the strait also promise nothing

good. Further more, this sulfur is not in containers, as officials

are stating. It is lying in piles in the holds of the sunken

ships.

Because the storm in the Strait of Kerch is getting stronger,

there is no possibility to stop the flow of oil in the sea and

organize its collection and removal. The black oil stains are

taking over the entire marine territory and the catastrophe is

becoming bigger and bigger.

And thus, the ancient land of Taman has gotten a full taste of

what oil is. This is by no means economic prosperity, as many

investors have promised. It is dead birds and fish, a polluted sea

and beaches. The fuel oil left on the bottom of the sea will be

long remembered, and will continue to poison the regionТs maritime

ecosystem for many years.

The catastrophe in the Strait of Kerch should stand as a lesson

for the authorities in Russia. They are obligated to listen to the

opinions of the local population and to public environmental

organizations, who have tried to show them for the past ten years

that the Taman Peninsula is not a location for oil and chemical

ports.

 

Andrey RUDOMAKHA

Victoria KUCHERENKO

(Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus)

 

Translated by Kate WATTERS

(Crude Accountability)

 

Photos by Igor GOLUBENKOV (NGO "Saving Taman")

November 12, 2006, on Tuzla Spit

 

For more information:

NGO "Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus":

Email:

NGO "Saving Taman!":

Email:

 

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Taken on November 12, 2007
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