Cleanup operations are underway on the Russian island of Sakhalin after a tanker laden with oil grounded close to a fishing port, ripping open at least one of its tanks and polluting several kilometers of coastline.
The tanker Nadezhda struck a reef during a storm on Saturday and foundered 150 meters from the fishing port of Nevelsk, about 100 km north of Hokkaido. It was carrying 786 tons of fuel oil and diesel fuel.
Significant environmental damage was reported in the area. The government’s Emergencies Ministry department for Sakhalin said Monday oil coated a 3.5-km stretch of the shore, with the sticky sludge extending up to 4 meters on land from the water line. One environmental group warned the oil would result in the deaths of animals and birds.
“We consider it a fairly serious incident,” said WWF representative Alexei Knizhnikov, speaking from Moscow.
Knizhnikov said the damage would likely be restricted to the western part of Sakhalin. “We don’t expect serious pollution to affect Japan,” he said.
The amount of oil spilled was not immediately clear, but photographs carried by Russian media showed thick black sludge being shoveled into sacks from concrete blocks along shore as the ship lay in the background. Rescue personnel were shown delivering pipes and equipment in crates to the site.
The Emergencies Ministry said by Monday workers had removed 105 cubic meters of contaminated soil.
Salvage teams reportedly prepared to pump the remaining oil out of the vessel to reduce the risk of further spillage as tides and currents cause it to shift on the rocks, potentially breaking up further. Removing its load can also lighten a grounded ship sufficiently for it to float free of an obstruction.
Photos released by the Nevelsk town administration showed oil tanker vehicles lined up on a road with hoses coiled nearby.
It was unclear whether damage is likely in Hokkaido. The wreck site is about 100 km north of the port of Wakkanai, Japan’s northernmost city, and pollution there would depend both on the volume of oil lost and on the course of ocean currents.
In a statement carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency, rescue workers said two ships and more than 100 personnel are currently involved in the recovery effort. It said the cleanup will take at least two weeks to complete.
The office of regional Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako called for the deployment of specialized equipment to aid recovery. Kozhemyako said it is essential to focus work on the fishing port adjacent to the wreck site as “nothing has been done so far,” according to Interfax, citing the statement issued Sunday.
Sakhalin is a major producer of oil and natural gas and has extensive infrastructure used by the extractive industries.