30,000 birds die in Russian oil spill

Leak from tanker is called an "ecological catastrophe."

Published November 13, 2007

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 broke apart washed up on shore Monday, and rescuers were looking for five missing crewmen, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Sergei Kozhemyaka.

"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.

The Volganeft-139 tanker was carrying about 1.3-million gallons of fuel oil when the storm broke it. About half of its load has leaked out already, officials estimated. The 13 crew members were rescued.