Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Crimea oil spill kills 30,000 birds

More than 30,000 birds have died in the wake of the spill of thousands of tonnes of oil from the tanker that broke apart near the Black Sea at the weekend, says the governor of the disaster-hit region. Countless birds, weighed down by thick coatings of oil, are hopping weakly along the shore or sitting helplessly in the sand.

The storm off the Crimea peninsula grounded at least 11 ships, causing the deaths of three crew from another freighter, the Nakhichevan, which spilled sulphur into the Kerch strait, between the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. Rescuers were still looking for five missing crew, said Sergei Kozhemyaka, spokesman for the emergencies ministry.

Yesterday, as workers with shovels and pitchforks cleared up vast clumps of oil glued to sand and seaweed, Alexander Tkachev, governor of the Krasnodar region, said: "The damages are so great it's hard to assess. It can be equated with ecological catastrophe." Investigators are to examine the actions of the captain of the split tanker Volganeft-139, which has leaked at least 2,000 tonnes of oil from its 4,800-tonne load.

Alexei Knizhnikov, head of WWF- Russia's oil and gas programme, said the river tanker had been unfit for severe weather at sea. Other environmentalists said the spill was triggered by years of official neglect that let oil transport ships use inadequate equipment.

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