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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Warning of Ecological Disaster as Oil Tanker Sinks in Storm

A severe storm broke a small Russian oil tanker off the Ukrainian port of Kerch on Sunday, spilling up to 2,000 tons of fuel oil in what environmental official Oleg Mitvol described as a disaster.

The same storm in the Black Sea and Azov Sea also sank four freighters, three carrying sulphur and one with a cargo of scrap metal. The heavy seas also cracked the hull of another oil tanker, but the ship was afloat and not leaking.

The sunken tanker, Volganeft-139, had traveled from the Russian port of Azov and was anchored outside Kerch in Ukraine's eastern Crimea to ride out the weather when high waves broke its back early Sunday.

The 1978-built tanker, designed primarily for inland and coastal service, was carrying 4,000 tons of fuel oil in total when it was hit by the storm.

"This problem may take a few years to solve. Fuel oil is a heavy substance and it is now sinking to the seabed," said Mitvol, deputy head of the Natural Resources Ministry's environmental watchdog, said on Vesti-24. "This is a very serious environmental disaster."

His agency said some 2,000 tons of fuel oil had spilled. A spill of more than 700 tons is considered large, but the biggest ones run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

The tanker's 13 crew members drifted for hours in waves up to 6 meters high aboard the ship's stern before beaching safely.

Almost at the same time as the ship broke up, a freighter carrying 2,000 tons of sulphur sank off the port of Kavkaz in the Kerch Strait. Its crew of nine was rescued. "We hope that in the water sulphur will not form any substances dangerous to humans," Mitvol said.

Several hours later, another freighter carrying sulphur sank off Kavkaz, Interfax reported, adding three of its crew had been rescued by a Ukrainian ship. The fate of the other eight sailors was unclear. The same storm, which is expected to rage for up to three days, also sank a freighter with scrap metal off Sevastopol. Two of its crew were rescued, but the fate of the other 15 was unknown. The hull of the oil tanker Volganeft-123 cracked after being hit by high waves, but it was afloat and its oil products were not leaking.