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Cablegate: Kerch Strait Oil Spill Under Control, but Long Term Cleanup

VZCZCXRO5369
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #5372/01 3180359
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140359Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5206
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0375
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 005372

SIPDIS

EPA FOR PI/EKIMOFF/THOMPSON
DOE/PI FOR K. THOMPSON AND L. EKIMOFF
CEQ FOR CONNAUGHTON
HOMELAND SECURITY FOR U.S. COAST GUARD

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ENRG PREL RS
SUBJECT: KERCH STRAIT OIL SPILL UNDER CONTROL, BUT LONG TERM CLEANUP
REQUIRED


Sensitive but unclassified, not for internet distribution.

-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Despite continuing storms in the Kerch Strait, the GOR
reports that it has staunched the flow and has begun containment and
cleanup of the 2000 tons of oil spilled over the weekend. The GOR
is cooperating with Ukraine, but has not requested any international
assistance. The Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural
Resources told us, however, that if an American expert wished to
come and "survey the situation," Russian authorities would be "ready
for active cooperation." While the GOR appears to have the
immediate situation in hand, Embassy supports, if feasible, the USG
offering to send out an expert (or experts) to help address the
long-term consequences of the spill. End Summary.

----------
Background
----------

2. (SBU) On November 11, severe storms in the area of the Kerch
Strait (which runs between the Black and Azov Seas near Crimea)
caused one Russian oil tanker to split apart, and damaged several
others. Deputy Chairman of Russia's Federal Service for the
Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) Oleg Mitvol,
currently on-site, confirmed to us November 13 that about 2000 tons
of oil had spilled as a result of the storm. He noted that over
8000 tons more could have spilled, but that technicians had been
able to successfully drain one tanker as well as two damaged barges.


-----------------
Current Situation
-----------------

3. (SBU) Mitvol reported that half the spilled oil has already sunk
below the surface of the water, and the rest has washed ashore or is
floating on the surface. There are currently about 750 volunteers
and military personnel cleaning the beaches. The GOR is using booms
to contain floating oil, but is battling rough sea conditions. Over
30,000 birds have already been impacted by the oil. The sinking of
more oil to the seabed will likely cause significant damage to
marine life. Mitvol predicted that the environmental impact and
cleanup efforts could last years. The Azov Sea has very limited
water circulation, so nature acting alone would be slow to mitigate
the damage. Mitvol indicated that EMERCOM and the Russian Navy
would carry out the long-term cleanup efforts.

--------------------
Working with Ukraine
--------------------

4. (SBU) Most of the spill occurred in or is flowing toward Russian
waters, Mitvol told us. Although the GOR met with the GOU for
discussions on November 12, Mitvol reported that the GOU is not yet
"very focused" on the environmental cleanup. Ukraine did, however,
request that Russia provide divers and chemical treating agents.
The GOR is considering erecting a temporary dam to block oil flows
from the Strait into the Azov Sea. (Russia had previously used this
technique to block flows from China's Sungari river, a tributary of
Russia's polluted Amur river.)

--------------------------
No Requests for Assistance
--------------------------

5. (SBU) Mitvol and the Ministry of Environment and Natural
Resources both report that the GOR has requested no international
assistance. The EU Mission to Russia told us that the EU has
offered assistance through the Russian Mission to the EU in Brussels
and also through EMERCOM in Moscow, but has not received a reply.
Mitvol told us that "if an American expert wished to come and survey
the situation, we are ready for active cooperation." When we asked
Greenpeace Russia if they thought assistance might be needed, they
replied that the scale of damage is not that large, and that EMERCOM
should be capable of handling it.

--------------------------

MOSCOW 00005372 002 OF 002


Comment and Action Request
--------------------------

6. (SBU) Although very damaging, the Kerch Strait's 2000-ton spill
is much smaller in scale than the 2002 Prestige spill in Spain
(63,000 tons) or the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska (40,000 tons). In
the short-term, the GOR appears to have the situation in hand.
Nonetheless, Embassy favors, if feasible, a USG offer to send out an
expert or experts to assist Russia in planning for long-term
clean-up activities. This offer would be consistent with the spirit
of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Dialogue on Oil Spill Prevention and
Response, initiated in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Energy and the
Russian Energy Ministry. (A U.S.-Russia Oil Spill Workshop is
planned for November 19-20 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.)
Both EPA and the Coast Guard have also been carrying on dialogs over
the years with Russia on this topic. Washington please advise
feasibility of offering to send out an expert or experts.

BURNS

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