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Taman Catastrophe Continues

By Decree of the Authorities, the Emergency on Taman Peninsula is “Over”;

However, the Catastrophe Continues

Yesterday, the deputy head of the administration of Krasnodar Krai, Alexander Ivanov, stated on “New Kuban Television” that the emergency situation, which had occurred around the ship wrecks in the Strait of Kerch has been resolved and that the authorities are planning to place a small team on the shore to “monitor the situation.” On November 23rd at a meeting of the interagency commission for liquidating the results of the storm in the Strait of Kerch, it was noted that “the situation is now the responsibility of the staff.” Before that, on November 19th, the Prime Minister of Russia, Victor Zubkov, in his report to the President of Russia, stated that fuel oil would be removed from the shore during the next two days. As a whole, according to the information coming from different state organs reported on by the media, the impression given is that the basic problems created by the environmental catastrophe in the Strait of Kerch have been resolved.

However, reality refutes these assertions. Six days have already passed since the statement by the Prime Minister, but there are still significant portions of the beach where no cleanup from the oil spill has taken place. In addition, there are a lot of other problems occurring as part of the liquidation of the impacts of the catastrophe. The most significant of these is saving birds.

A week ago, activists from Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus conducted monitoring of the polluted beaches in Temryuk raion. The results showed that at that time no work to clean the beaches in the southern part of the Chushka Spit (a five kilometer area) had taken place. In addition, no cleanup had occurred in the area between the Capes of Panagiya and Tuzla (seven kilometers), and between the Capes of Akhilleon and Pekla (12 kilometers). It also became clear that because of the government’s lack of action, the situation with saving birds was critical; and the public was refused access to the territory of the southern part of the Chushka Spit.

As a result of the monitoring, on the morning of November 20, Environmental Watch sent an official letter to the interagency commission for the liquidation of the impacts of the storm in the Strait of Kerch. Environmental Watch proposed the following in its letter:

“to include beach cleanup without exclusion of the polluted parts on the beach in the Temryuk raion”

“to provide access to the southern part of the Chushka Spit to volunteers and representatives of public organizations in order to help suffering birds and to conduct cleanup of the territory”

“to provide special resources, housing and transport for the means to collect and rehabilitate injured birds.”

However, five days have already gone by and the work has begun only on the southern part of the Chushka spit, which is the most environmentally valuable of the areas impacted by the sinking of the tanker “Volgoneft 139.” When activists from Environmental Watch were on this part of the Spit on November 19th; the beach was contaminated with fuel oil—tens of meters wide and one and a half meters deep—and littered with dead birds. This unique protected area was “protected” and in keeping with the sense of that word, not one emergency liquidator had set foot there. Now, beach cleanup is taking place, but how it is being conducted is a secret. After this, activists from Environmental Watch were able to go the southern part of the Chushka Spit and to document the criminal negligence of the emergency liquidators, the authorities carried out even stricter limitations on access to this territory, as if there were a secret facility. Journalists and representatives of public organizations were not allowed to go there.

And regarding other sections of the beach that were polluted by fuel oil, the situation is no better. As activists from the public organization, Saving Taman!, reported today, two weeks following the sinking of the tanker, on the Black Sea beach between the Capes of Panagiya and Tuzla, no beach cleanup has taken place. According to Dmitrii Artamonov, coordinator of a group of volunteers from Greenpeace Russia, there has been no organization of a commission to liquidate the impacts of the catastrophe on the beaches between the Capes of Akhilleon and Pekla on the Sea of Azov. The only beach cleanup taking place there is being done by Greenpeace volunteers.

For the last five days, after Environmental Watch sent its official letter to the commission for the liquidation of the impacts of the storm in the Strait of Kerch, no steps have been taken to save the birds. The Commission not only has done nothing itself, but it has not given any help to the volunteers who have come to save the birds. And the members of the Commission would not have to go far to see how critical the situation is for the birds; the dying birds are easy to see through their office windows.

The authorities have not found it possible to find a warm building where birds could be rehabilitated; without this it is impossible to organize a massive effort to save the birds. They have failed to provide help to the volunteers in many instances. In addition, they have not even given permission for volunteers to carry out efforts to save the birds in the southern part of the Chushka Spit.

And the birds continue to die. As residents of the village of Chushka told Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, today in the central and northern parts of the Chushka Spit, on the road between the Port of Kavkaz and the village of Ilyich, they saw a lot of birds covered with fuel oil. This speaks to the fact that in this part of the spit, there was a significant number of suffering birds, to whom no one is providing help.

One more quality of the Russian authorities’ activity in the “rescue” operation is ignoring the suggestions of the environmental public and the creation of obstacles to its activity. Currently, representatives of environmental organizations are finding it difficult even to go to the office for liquidation of the impacts of the catastrophe, as it is located in a zone where there is no access. What kind of cooperation can we speak about? The only organization among the departments involved in the liquidation of the catastrophe that is working constructively with the public is Rosprirodnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Regulation of the Use of Natural Resources).

On the whole, the real situation on the Taman Peninsula does not correspond to a situation that is ready to be turned over to “staff.” The sunken ships have not been recovered and the source of the pollution in the sea has not been liquidated, many kilometers of polluted beach have not yet been cleaned, and birds continue to die.

In the current situation, there should be no change in the regime of emergency situation, and liquidating the impacts of the catastrophe should not be turned over to anyone else until a complete cleanup of the seashore and the liquidation of the source of the pollution has been completed. It is also critically important that the authorities change their relationship to the birds that are threatened with death. It is necessary that they initiate a complex of conditions for saving the birds and prevent the oiling of additional birds. They should also undertake effective coordination with public organizations. This is especially important because a massive migration of birds is occurring across the territory where the catastrophe occurred. Many of these birds could also be killed, as they find themselves in zones that have been polluted by petroleum products.

Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus
Information Distribution
November 25, 2007