Russian Blame Game as Oil Spill Spreads in the Black Sea

oil spill in the Black Sea
CPC Marine Terminal on the Black Sea (file photo CPC)

Published Aug 11, 2021 5:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

An oil spill at a Russian marine oil terminal on the eastern side of the Black Sea has grown from reports of a minor spill to a controversy with scientist saying it is much larger and reaches much further than announced by the authorities.

Initial reports were of a small spill covering an area of approximately 200 square yards with an amount of less than 12 cubic meters (100 tons) of crude at the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) marine terminal near the city of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. Media reports linked the spill to a Greek flagged tanker the M/T Minerva Symphony. The 159,000 DWT tanker had been loading at the Single Point Mooring when the spill occurred late on the afternoon of August 7.

Terminal operator CPC, which is owned by Rosneft in Russia, Chevron, and Eni of Italy, sought to downplay the spill, saying that it had immediately enacted its oil spill prevention plan. Booms and cleaners were dispersed. They reported that 17 response vessels were deployed to the terminal, including skimmers and oil storage tanks. By that evening, they were reporting that the spill had been contained and that the Black Sea water was being monitored. Although they suspended operations at the terminal for a few hours after the spill, by the following morning they issued a statement saying, "According to the information on the morning of August 8, the situation was back to normal and posed no hazard to the local population or flora and fauna of the Black Sea. CPC has set up an ad hoc commission to investigate the causes and conditions of the incident."

While the reports cited the Greek tanker, CPC admitted that a hydraulic compressor broke while crude was being loaded onto the ship. They said it was an integral part of the operation and the cause of the spill.

The company continued to say that monitoring was underway and that the local administration and prosecutor's office reported that seawater samples "do not exceed the maximum permissible concentration. The state bodies have overflown the water surface and the coast in the area of the oil outflow and to the west. It has been established that there are no signs of pollution, the water area is in a clean state."

Locals however are claiming that the spill has entered the Utrish Natural Reserve, Abrau-Dyurso, a famous beach town and wine-producing region on the Black Sea. The Russian Academy of Science is monitoring the pollution from space, and by August 8 said they believe from satellite images that the spill had already reached the open ocean. They estimated that it was covering up to 20,000 acres over a distance of up to 12 miles.

According to a report on Reuters, Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko has intervened ordering an assessment of the scale and impact of the spill.