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

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    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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