PORT KAVKAZ, Russia – More than 30,000 birds and countless fish have been killed in an “ecological catastrophe” wrought by thousands of tons of oil from a tanker that broke apart in a heavy storm near the Black Sea, the governor of the region said Monday.
Birds weighed down by thick coatings of the fuel oil hopped weakly along the shore or sat helplessly in the sand. Workers with pitchforks and shovels started the backbreaking labor of gathering up vast clumps of oil mixed with sand and seaweed.
The tanker was one of up to 10 ships that sank or ran aground in the storm Sunday in the strait connecting the Black and Azov Seas. The bodies of three sailors from a freighter that also broke apart washed up on shore Monday, and rescuers were looking for five missing crewmen, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Sergei Kozhemyaka.
The spill from the oil tanker was seen as potentially the worst environmental disaster in the region in recent years. It prompted criticism that many Russian tankers aren’t seaworthy.
“Some 30,000 birds have died and it’s not possible to count how many fish. The damages are so great that it’s hard to assess. It can be equated with an ecological catastrophe,” said Alexander Tkachev, the governor of the Krasnodar region, according to the Interfax news agency.