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17 Feb, 2009 11:26

Oil spill exaggerated – Russian Navy

Russia has confirmed two of its naval vessels were in the area of the Atlantic where a large oil spill was reported on Saturday. But according to a Russian Navy spokesman, the scope of the spill’s been exaggerated.

The Navy says the ships were taking part in a refuelling exercise. The slick is in international waters about 80 kilometres off the Irish coast.

Irish officials say about 300 tonnes are involved.

“The oil spill involves an estimated 300 metric tonnes of oil about 80 kilometres offshore and we are monitoring it using helicopters and aircraft,” said a coastguard spokesman. According to him, there were about seven Russian naval vessels in the area and the pollution seems to have resulted from a bunkering accident, involving ship-to-ship refuelling.

Earlier, Ireland’s RTE channel reported on Monday that two Russian warships had spilled 12 tonnes of oil into the sea over an area of some 400 km (250 miles). Other media said up to 400 tonnes could have been spilled.

However, the Russian Navy officials say the scope of the oil spill has been exaggerated.

“The nature and reasons for the possible pollution will be determined by experts only after a comprehensive probe,” said Captain Igor Dygalo, aide to the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy. “It is now absolutely clear that its scope does not correspond to media reports, it [the spill] is not catastrophic and poses no environmental threat to the shoreline.”

The Russian Navy says it’s begun an inquiry into the incident. Ireland has scrambled aircraft and a naval vessel to monitor the oil spill.

Meanwhile, ‘Friends of the Earth’ has called for a full investigation into the incident, the Irish Times writes. The organisation’s spokesman Oisín Coughlan said this was a “significant spill” off the Irish coast and it would certainly cause serious damage to marine life.

“The environmental impact could worsen if the oil reaches offshore islands or the west Cork coast,” he warned. He called for full co-operation from the Russian authorities in any investigation by the Irish agencies.