18 February 2009

Russia denies Responsibility for Oil Spill at Sea

The Irish Department of Transport & the Marine says that the serious oil spillage in the Celtic Sea (see yesterday's entry) - off the southern coast of Ireland - is now around 30 nautical miles (ca. 55 km) from land.

Coast Guard surveillance established that the slick contains more than 520 tonnes of Russian fuel oil and is at least 6 km long and wide. It is said to be breaking up, reducing naturally and spreading over a larger area.

Yesterday the Coast Guard predicted that the slick could land on the coast of Co. Wexford within about two weeks' time. However, the latest change of conditions make this less certain. There is currently an easterly wind in the area off the Old Head of Kinsale. But winds do of course change all the time.

Irish authorities first learned about the spill last Saturday through surveillance by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which is based in the Portuguese capital Lisbon.
Aerial surveillance conducted since then confirmed the spill, surrounding the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its accompanying vessels: one destroyer, two tankers and an ocean-going tug.

As the Admiral Kuznetsov was refuelled at sea and no other ships have been sighted in the same area for some time, it is quite clear and obvious who is the perpetrator of this pollution. However, there are conflicting comments from different Russian military sources.

While the Russian Naval Attaché to Ireland stated that the Admiral Kuznetsov performed a fuel transfer from a supply tanker at sea when the spill took place, General Nikolai Marakov (left), the Chief of Russia's General Staff, only confirmed that a Russian aircraft carrier had refuelled in the area, but denied that there had been "any problems".
And Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy, says that "there has not been any accident on board of the ships in the Celtic Sea, nor any deliberate dumping of fuel overboard".
He also disputes the size of the oil spill, adding that "it neither has a catastrophic character, nor does it constitute a threat to coastal ecology".

This is another example of the typical Russian manner of arrogantly denying established facts, a habit that has not changed since the days of the old Soviet Union, which thrived on propaganda and barefaced lies, even if there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In contrast to the Russian attempts of denial and shirking responsibility, Molly Walsh of the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth says that the slick could seriously damage marine life.

The Irish Department of Transport & the Marine expects the oil to reach the southern coast of Ireland in about 14 to 16 days. Some of it will evaporate, and the rest will most likely develop into tar balls, small sticky patches of oil that often wash ashore and cause coastal pollution and serious damage to beaches and wildlife, in particular sea birds.

John Lucey, a senior biologist with Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is the biggest oil spill in the waters around Ireland in ten years.
The last happened in 1999, when the oil tanker Sea Empress ran aground off the south-west coast of Wales and dumped 72,000 tonnes of oil. Compared with that disaster the current oil spill is rather small, but it could nevertheless become a serious threat for the Irish south coast.

The Coast Guard took samples of the oil and experts are currently contemplating if a clean-up operation at sea is possible. This could prevent major damage to our coast and would certainly be the best option of dealing with the pollution.
The open question remains who is going to pay for it. Most likely Ireland would have to foot the bill in the first place. But whatever the costs for a clean-up at sea might be, it will be less than a large-scale clean-up of polluted coastline.
So one can only hope that our government will act quickly and decisively, and that eventually common sense will reach Russia, which - as the obvious polluter - should pay for any necessary clean-up work.

The Emerald Islander


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