Russian oil tanker sinks in Black Sea storm

Updated: 2007-11-12 10:25

MOSCOW - Five-metre (16-feet) high waves smashed apart a Russian tanker on Sunday, spilling 1,300 tonnes of fuel oil into the Black Sea in what environmentalists called an "ecological catastrophe."

Fuel oil is seen on the shore near Russia's southern port of Kavkaz November 11, 2007. [Agencies]

Four other cargo ships including three carrying sulphur also sank as winds of up to 108 kilometres (67 miles) an hour battered the Kerch Strait separating the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov.

Rescue services plucked 36 crewmembers from stricken vessels but fears were growing for the fate of 23 missing sailors as weather conditions worsened, reports said.

Forty vessels were evacuated from Kavkaz, a busy Russian commercial port some 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) south of Moscow, officials said. Ten others were forced to stay in the port because of the storm.

Some 300 kilometres further west, high winds sank a cargo ship with 17 sailors on board. Two were rescued and 15 were still missing, officials said.

"This is a major ecological catastrophe," Vladimir Slivyak, head of Ekozashchita, or Ecodefense, a Russian environmental group, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

"The pollution that has taken place will have to be cleaned up for a long time to come and the consequences will be felt for a year or even more."

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