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Ecological Disaster

DW staff (als)November 13, 2007

As hundreds of Russian soldiers worked Tuesday, Nov. 13, to clean up a massive oil spill, Russian and Ukrainian environmentalists have predicted that the ecological impact of the spill in the Black Sea will be long-term.

Bird covered in oil on shore
Thousands of birds are died in the disaster that destroyed the habitat of thousands moreImage: AP

Waves caused an oil tanker to split in two on Sunday allowing some 2,000 tons of heating oil to spill into the Kerch Strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The waterway between Russia and Ukraine is an important migration route for birds and home to the Black Sea porpoise.

High winds have caused helicopters to be grounded, but clean-up efforts by Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are continuing with use vehicles along beaches. The Interfax news agency reported that about 200 tons of oil had been removed from the water by midday on Tuesday.

On the weekend, the 100 kph (62 mph) gales that causing the tanker to split also prompted four other ships to sink and drove another 15 vessels aground.

Sailors still missing

Ship battling a massive wave on Sunday
Ships battled high seas as a winter storm slammed into the Crimean Peninsula SundayImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Rescuers saved 36 other crew members from the shipwrecks on Sunday. But 20 sailors were still missing from the wrecks, while the bodies of three were washed ashore on Monday on the Tuzla Spit, near the maritime border between Russia and ex-Soviet Ukraine.

"The clean-up of the water is going to take six months, and a complete clean-up of the coastal areas is going to take decades," environmentalist Aleksander Minin told DPA news agency.

Thousands of bird have died

Regional governor Alexander Tkachyov told AFP news agency that 30,000 birds had already died.

On the Tuzla Spit, near the location of the spill, an AFP reporter saw some 200 emergency workers, soldiers and volunteers shoveling sand and seaweed caked with fuel oil into trucks.

"We're clearing up the shore and the water and we're pumping oil out from a tanker damaged in the storm," Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Russian government's environmental monitoring agency, told AFP.

"If that 2,000-ton spill moves further into the Sea of Azov, there will be serious environmental consequences," Mitvol added. "It has a fragile ecosystem."

Oil won't budge

Seashore smeared with oil near Port Kavkaz
Oil is continuing to wash up on the shore near Port KavkazImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Much of the water in the Black Sea -- generally at depths below 200 meters (656 feet) -- cannot support life due to a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide and low levels of oxygen.

If the oil from the spill sinks, it could remain there almost indefinitely until returned to the surface or land by currents, Minin said.

"Some of these petroleum products can sink to levels in the water, particularly those without oxygen, and they will not dissolve, and just stay there for dozens of years," he explained to DPA.

Sergei Golubchikov, an environmental scientist, also told DPA that dozens of kilometers of seashore had been or soon would be polluted.

The largest section was last reported to be in the middle of Kerch Strait and slowly drifting toward the Russian shoreline.

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