Controversy looms over Kerch Strait fuel oil cleanup

Russian officials and environmental experts are in disagreement over the effects of 1,300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled by the sunken tanker Volgoneft-139 in Kerch Strait.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 13 -- Russian officials and environmental experts are in disagreement over the short and long-term effects of 1,300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled by the sunken tanker Volgoneft-139 in Kerch Strait (OGJ Online, Nov. 12, 2007).

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said the majority of fuel oil will be removed from the shoreline within 3 weeks, while work to put things back in order in the aftermath of the disaster will be completed "within 40-45 days."

On Nov. 13 Zubkov said, "Measures are being taken today, and we think the large volume of oil will be removed from the shoreline."

But Alexey Zimenko, an environmentalist with Russian Program Office World Wide Fund for Nature said the region's ecological system will not recover soon from the consequences of the tanker's sinking.

"The consequences [to the Krasnodar territory region] will persist for many years," Zimenko told Interfax news agency.

"The environmental system of the region has sustained serious damage," Zimenko said. "It is insufficient to collect the oil on the water's surface and on the shoreline. A considerable part of the black oil will sink to settle on the bottom, and it will participate in the environmental cycle."

Russian federal weather forecasting service Rosgidromet warned Nov. 13 that oil products from the sunken tanker could spread beyond Kerch Strait to the Sea of Azov.

"In the current stormy situation the greatest danger lies in intensive pollution of the coastline in the shipwreck zone, including on Ukrainian territory with oil products," Rosgidromet said.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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