Belgian Ship Spills 100 Tons of Oil Off Russian Far East

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, Russia, September 9, 2004 (ENS) - About 100 metric tons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the ocean off Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East after a dredging vessel lost power and ran aground during heavy typhoon winds late Wednesday night.

The vessel TSHD Cristoforo Colombo, owned by European Dredging Company (EDC), had about 200 tons of fuel oil and diesel aboard. The Belgian flagged ship was chartered by Saipem, which is working under contract with Sakhalin Energy in the construction of a seabed pipeline.

Twenty-nine crew members remain on board for safety reasons. All crew are well and in no danger, Sakhalin Energy said in a statement.

The 388 foot long vessel is stranded between Kholmsk Fishing Port and Kholmsk Commercial Marine Port. Some of the spilled fuel has reached the public beach area in Kholmsk, according to Sakhalin Energy.


Kholmsk on the Sakhalin coast (Photo courtesy Port State Control of Russia Far East)

Oil spill response experts Ecoshelf have arrived on the scene and have mobilized an oil spill response team in Kholmsk.

Ecoshelf specialists are now surveying the site and preparing to begin cleanup operations. A helicopter is being deployed for visual spill assessment.

Expert salvage companies have been contacted, and are studying the technical aspects of the vessel, a trailing suction hopper dredger, and the potential salvage options. Sakhalin Energy has the vessel Smit Sakhalin on standby to assist as required.

Sakhalin Energy said that the company is working closely with EDC and the Regional Emercom. All the relevant authorities have been notified, and Sakhalin Energy will start an investigation "as soon as practicable."


Map of the Western Pacific Rim showing Sakhalin Island. (Map courtesy WWF)
The TSHD Cristoforo Colombo is caught in Typhoon Songda, which caused the deaths of at least 32 people as it swept northwards Tuesday and Wednesday across Japan, Sakhalin's neighbor to the south. More than 700 others have been injured in typhoon related incidents.

More than 1.5 million people in Japan were left without power by the storm. Dozens of homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of buildings were flooded.

Songda is the third typhoon to hit Japan in three weeks and follows Typhoon Chaba, which killed at least 13 people and Typhoon Megi which killed at least 10.

Sakhalin Energy is a consortium with three partners - Shell Sakhalin Holdings B.V., which has a 55 percent share in the project, Mitsui Sakhalin Holdings B.V., which has a 25 percent share and Diamond Gas Sakhalin, a Mitsubishi company, with a 20 percent share.

The consortium was formed in 1994 to develop the Piltun Astokhskoye oil field and the Lunskoye gas field in the Sea of Okhotsk, offshore Sakhalin Island.

Concern for the impact of this oil development on a critically endangered population of Western gray whales, which number less than 100 individuals, prompted Sakhalin Energy in August to commission the IUCN-World Conservation Union to undertake research into their welfare. The IUCN has established an independent panel to conduct the study.