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Heavy seas blamed for oil spill off Ukraine

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 12 -- Russian authorities have warned of an ecological disaster after an oil tanker, which split up and sank off the Ukrainian port of Kerch, spilled 1,300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the sea.

The small Russian oil tanker, the Volgoneft-139, sank off the Ukrainian port of Kerch during the storm, while four other ships also sank. The heavy seas also cracked the hull of another oil tanker, but reports said the ship remained afloat.

The Volganeft-139, carrying an estimated 4,000 tonnes of oil, had traveled from the Russian port of Azov, and was anchored outside Kerch in Ukraine's eastern Crimea when heavy seas broke out in the early hours of Nov. 11.

Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of Russia's environment agency Rosprirodnadzor, said authorities face a very serious environmental disaster regarding the Volgoneft-139, and that solutions to the problem may take a few years as fuel oil is sinking into the seabed.

Vladimir Slivyak, head of the Ekozashchita environmental group, described the accident as a major ecological catastrophe and said that the pollution that has taken place will have to be cleaned up for a long time to come.

Bad weather was said to be hampering the attempts of the authorities to remove the remaining oil from the 1978-built Volgoneft-139, which was designed primarily for river and coastal service.

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