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20 more feared dead in Black Sea disaster

At least 20 sailors are feared dead in the Black and Azov Seas after disappearing in the region’s worst storm for 30 years. Rescuers are being hampered by 9C sea temperatures and dangerous winds.

The 20 men, from Russia and Ukraine, disappeared after weather conditions caused three ships to sink and two barges to run aground last weekend.

At least three bodies have washed ashore while sixty others were plucked from the sea.

Nearly 600 people are involved in the clean-up operation, although it’s also being slowed by weather conditions which are expected to get worse. As the storms continue to batter the coastline, the cleanup teams are trying to collect the oil from the beach. They say, it's important to stop it from being washed back into the sea.

The Black Sea region
The Black Sea region

Biggest shipwreck in modern history

Two fuel spills, each more than a kilometre long, have appeared on the sea's surface, following the break-up of the Volganeft-139 oil tanker on Sunday. The entire crew of the Volganeft-139 were saved, but rescuers are still searching for crew members of a cargo ship that sank off the coast of Sevastopol.

Three cargo ships, loaded with 6,000 tonnes of sulphur, also sank in the Kerch Strait. Two barges carrying crude oil also ran aground. Their tanks are believed to be intact in the seabed. But at any moment they can react with water, causing air contamination.

Many cargo ships are still trapped in the strait because of bad weather. Their crews are ready to evacuate and it's uncertain whether these vessels will stay afloat if the storms worsen once again.

The Kerch strait separates the Ukrainian and Russian coasts between the Black and the Azov seas. It's 40 kilometers long and up to seven meters deep.

Oil slicks take their toll

Oil slicks have already begun to take their toll on the wildlife. more then 300 dead birds are washed ashore. Saving birds in present conditions is almost impossible.

Environmentalists expect heavy further damage to the Azov sea environment. Some ecologists have described the situation as an environmental disaster already.

Besides the oil, there is a serious threat of sulphur contamination – it’s lying on the seabed packed in metal containers. If they leak, no one is sure what kind of chain reaction will follow. The air composition may be affected and could result in acid rains.

Meanwhile local environmentalists are already testing the sea water for dangerous chemicals. They are pessimistic.

“Of course the contamination is very intensive. Oil is falling on the sea floor, and that will result in an increased concentration of oil in the water for at least five years,” said Yelena Vavila, an expert with the regional environmental monitoring agency.

For the locals, who live off the sea, the recent shipwrecks mean there'll be no more fishing in the Kerch strait for some time. And no invitations to relatives for a holiday at the beach.

Prime Ministers visit region

Russia & Ukraine to examine damage after storm
Russia & Ukraine to examine damage after storm

The Prime Ministers of Russia and Ukraine are visiting the region to monitor rescue operations and inspect the environmental damage.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov vowed that the oil slick along the coast will be largely cleaned up within a week.

“What happened in the Kerch Strait is the most massive shipwreck in the history of modern Russia. I must say the tragedy was certainly caused by bad weather, but probably this is not the whole story. We need to determine whether it was something inevitable, or a result of untimely and slow action by specialists, or Russian over-reliance on luck,” he said.

Meanwhile, the relatives of those still missing are arriving at the port of Temryuk in Russia’s Krasnodar region. Local authorities of the Krasnodar region are trying to provide accommodation and support for the relatives of the missing sailors.