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Oil spill threatens Black Sea environment


Gland, Switzerland – The full environmental impacts of yesterday’s oil spill in the Black Sea would not be known for some time, says WWF.

At least four ships sank, including one tanker believed to have spilled more than 1200 tonnes of oil, and four others were in danger of breaking up after a severe storm hit the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea on Sunday.

“This is a tragic incident because lives have been lost, and there are some people who are still missing,” said Guillermo Castilleja, WWF International’s Executive Director of Conservation.

“We deeply regrets this loss of life, and, beyond that, all we can say at the moment is it is too early to say for sure what the environmental impacts will be.

“The ecosystem in this area has been degraded in the past by other spills and pollutants, and this latest spill will be a further setback.”

According to reports from local ecologists, the spill is already killing birds, and as the oil settles to the sea bottom, it will effect fish populations. However, the impact on the environment could have been less severe if local authorities had made oil spill clean-up arrangement immediately after the accident.

Three experts from WWF-Russia, highlighted the need for a greater focus on safety.

WWF-Russia’s Director of Conservation Policy, Dr Evgeny Shvarts, said: “WWF hopes that the accident will lead to the adoption of a law guaranteeing safety of oil operations in seas and rivers, similar to the Oil Pollution Act adopted in the US after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.”

Alexey Knizhnikov, head of WWF-Russia’s oil and gas programme, said: “The accident is a natural consequence of the situation when ships constructed for rivers sail in the sea. In the Strait of Kerch, river vessels and sea vessels change cargos, as sea vessels cannot enter the Don and Volga rivers because of small water draft. But vessels constructed for rivers cannot stand strong sea storms"

Oleg Tsaruk, head of the WWF-Russia Caucasus branch: “To minimize the consequences of oil spills in the sea, it is important to create a permanent Russian-Ukranian group capable of coordinating emergency services of the two countries. This agency should not only be responsible for cleaning up oil spills. Its main function should be preventing potential accidents. Everyone had been warned about the coming storm before 11 November, but there hadn’t been any strict command to take ships with poisonous cargoes to safe places.”


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