January 01, 2008

Blackened Sea

A sea storm in the Strait of Kerch sank or damaged a total of 12 ships in November, killing six sailors, releasing over three thousand tons of fuel oil and 6.5 thousand tons of sulfur into the water. Volunteers continue to wash and blow-dry oil-drenched birds. Yet, to this day, it is unclear who bears responsibility for the catastrophe and its resulting damages, estimated to reach $251 million.

Most of the fuel oil spilled from the tanker Volganeft-139, which broke in half and sank under the force of 70 mph winds. Two more ships, carrying large quantities of sulfur, sank in the same area several hours later. According to Viktor Beltsov of of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, none of the wrecked ships were built to withstand such a fierce storm; most were intended for river navigation. It is illegal for river ships to navigate the Azov and Black seas after November 1st, the start of storm season. Although nine storm warnings were issued to the ships, they sailed on into the 18-foot sea waves.

Environmentalists note that the Strait of Kerch, which has great ecological significance due to the number of fish migrations that pass through it, was an accident waiting to happen. Shallow water, high winds, and the fact that there are no systems in place to clean up oil spills, made the strait a poor location for high oil traffic, yet an oil processing plant was built there in 1999.

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