November 14th, 2007 15:34 EST
Black Sea storm is Ecological disaster
The bodies of three sailors washed ashore Monday after a ferocious Black Sea storm sank five ships, including an oil tanker, raising fears of severe environmental damage to the virtually landlocked sea.
The three bodies, still in life jackets, were found near the island of Tuzla, the southern Russian branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement, Interfax news agency reported. Another five sailors were still missing.
Sunday's gales had abated, but Ukraine's Emergency Situations Ministry warned Monday that a new storm was on its way.
The challenging weather was holding up the urgent task of securing fuel oil from an oil tanker that broke in two Sunday, spilling 1,300 tonnes of fuel oil into the Azov Sea, a small offshoot of the Black Sea connected by the environmentally sensitive Kerch Strait.
About 3,000 tonnes more fuel oil remained inside the wreckage of the ship, the "Volgoneft-139," officials said.
"Rescue work and monitoring the maritime environment is being complicated by the unfavourable weather conditions," Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement.
Oleg Mitvol, head of the Russian government's environmental monitoring agency Rosprirodnadzor, was due Monday in the region, where Russia and neighbouring Ukraine have established a joint crisis centre.
In addition to the "Volgoneft-139," three ships carrying sulphur foundered Sunday in the Kerch Strait, which is a major route for birds migrating south at this time of year and also home to the Black Sea porpoise.
Mitvol warned late Sunday of a "serious environmental accident" that "may take a few years to solve."
Vladimir Slivyak, head of the Ekozashchita environmental group, also described "a major ecological catastrophe," adding that "the pollution that has taken place will have to be cleaned up for a long time to come and the consequences will be felt for a year or even more."
During the storm, rescue services plucked 36 crewmembers from stricken vessels and 40 vessels were evacuated from Kavkaz, a busy Russian commercial port some 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) south of Moscow, officials said.
Some 300 kilometres further west, high winds sank another cargo ship, while several more ships were reported to have run aground.
The spill was not especially large by the standards of recent accidents. In November 2002, the Liberian oil tanker Prestige broke up and sank, spewing 64,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the waters and fouling thousands of kilometres (miles) along the Atlantic coast of France, Spain and Portugal.
However, environmentalists say that the real impact of the pollution varies from case to case and does not necessarily depend on how much fuel was spilled.
The Volgoneft-139 was carrying fuel oil from the southern Russian city of Samara on the Volga River to an oil terminal in Ukraine, agency reports quoted a Russian official as saying.
The Black Sea is all but enclosed by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, with one narrow outlet through the Bosphorus Strait into Turkey's Marmara Sea and on into the Mediterranean.
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