The sea turned black

The sea turned black

Expert Reports  

On February 21, 2023, the Seamark dry-cargo ship carrying 3.12 thousand tonnes of calcium carbonate and 7.5 tonnes of diesel fuel sank in the Black Sea. The incident occurred near the port of Novorossiysk. According to the portal tracking the movement of ships, the Seamark dry-cargo carrier flying the flag of the Comoro Islands arrived at the Novorossiysk port on February 15 from the Turkish city of Iskenderun and was wrecked due to a storm because it broke in half and sank. On that day, a gale-warning was announced in Novorossiysk, the city administration warned the residents about a thundershower and wind gusts up to 28 metres per second.

During the day, the bulk-carrier disappeared from radar. The crew immediately asked the shore services for help, saying that the ship was sinking. A rescue operation was launched. Five rescue ships went to the wreck of the Seamark from Novorossiysk, they tried to evacuate the people that were on board a ship, a total of 11 people, all Russian citizens. Unfortunately, one member of the crew - a man born in 2000, the second officer - died. From Gelendzhik, two ambulances, alert cells of police, traffic police and the EMERCOM left for the place. The survivors were taken ashore and handed over to the ambulance doctors. The captain was severely injured. He, like other crew members, was hospitalized in the Novorossiysk hospital. He had a broken rib and he is safe now.

The sunken Seamark dry-cargo freighter led to oil slicks are floating near Novorossiysk. Due to the wreck, the pollution standards were exceeded by 260 times, according to Svetlana Radionova, Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor).

According to Svetlana Radionova, the shipwreck led to the leakage of pollutants, and a film of about 300 square metres appeared on the water surface. Later, this place was treated with biosorbents by the Marine Rescue Service (MRS).

“During surveys of the shipwreck site, the specialists of the Black Sea-Azov Maritime Administration of Rosprirodnadzor took water samples from February 21 to February 23 that showed an extremely high excess of pollutant concentrations - up to 260 times,” she said. “During the control inspection on February 28, water samples were taken at five points and traces of oil products on the water surface were also found. Oil slicks - 50 to 100 metres wide and 1.5 to 2 kilometres long - were floating towards the coast to the village of Kabardinka.

The divers involved studied the wreckage of the vessel and recorded the oil product leakage from the exhaust pipes. At the same time, it turned out that the Nizhny Novgorod-based OKA Shipping Inc., the owner of the dry-cargo ship, does not take any actions to protect the water area.

“We sent a claim to the shipowner to eliminate the causes of pollution and prevent further spreading of pollutants,”- continued Svetlana Radionova. “The materials of surveys were also submitted to law enforcement bodies to initiate a criminal case. We keep the situation under control.”

As the Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport of Russia (Rosmorrechflot) told, the sunken ship was built in 1981. “The reason for the emergency situation lies in a combination of negative factors like wear and tear of the metal structures and bad weather,” the ministry said. The Krasnodar Investigation Department for Transport of the Western Interregional Investigation Department for Transport, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, initiated a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 263 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation titled “violation of sea traffic safety rules and sea vessel steering rules that entailed death of a person through negligence.”

In addition to the sea area, the inhabitants of the Black Sea also suffered. According to local ornithologists, after the shipwreck of the dry-cargo freighter, contaminated birds were brought to them that could have died without professional help. Surely, there were some sad cases that did not become available to the general public. Just imagine how many birds migrated to his place for the winter? After the wreck of the Seamark dry cargo ship, 14 birds with traces of oil products were brought to Alexander, Dvoretsky, an ornithologist from Sochi; these were black-throated loon (Gavia arctica), great-crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus), also called black-necked grebe or eared grebe. The oil slick spread fast - first, from Tuapse, and then from Sochi.

“Fuels and lubricants always pose a mortal threat to birds: their feathers get dirty, and feathers are important for their survival. When a bird gets wet due to such substances, it simply drowns, its thermoregulation is disturbed, it becomes too cold and tries to get ashore as fast as possible. Birds cannot clean their feathers on their own, so they need help. It is necessary to clean the birds from oil products very carefully, and using water doesn’t help, it can be done with the use of a detergent, a brush, sponge and rag, the main thing is that the surface-active agents contained in the detergents should not get on the birds’ skin. First, it’s necessary to wash off the top layer of grease. After the cleaning is completed, the birds should get dry, it’s good to feed them and release the birds as soon as possible,” he said.

It is worth saying that the shipwreck that happened in the Black Sea is not the first one in the last few years. In December 2018, at the seaport of Novorossiysk, a Togo-flagged Rio bulk-carrier was thrown closer to the shore by powerful waves due to adverse weather conditions, where it is still located. Immediately after the incident, it became a local tourist attraction. Travellers come to take selfies against its background, enjoy the sea views from the rocks and touch the huge steel hull. While in the case of the Seamark shipwreck, only the scale of the disaster is indicated and not the amount of damage, in the case of the Rio dry cargo ship, the amount of the penalty is known and it’s impressive. Last year, the captain of the seaport of Novorossiysk issued an order to remove the sunken property, and the Rosprirodnadzor’s employees conducted an on-site survey of the Black Sea in the area of the stranded ship. Since it is a waste, the Rosprirodnadzor’s employees calculated the amount of damage caused to the Black Sea by the discharge and disposal of industrial and consumption waste, including damaged ships and other floating craft (their parts and mechanisms), other large-sized production and consumption waste (items). The field examination materials were sent to law enforcement bodies for initiating a criminal case. Rosprirodnadzor filed a claim to the Rio dry cargo ship owner asking him to voluntary compensate more than 647 mn roubles for the harm the Rio cargo ship inflicted to the Black Sea.

“The Black Sea-Azov Maritime Administration of Rosprirodnadzor filed a claim to the Rio vessel owner to voluntary compensate for damage caused to the Black Sea,” the agency said in its statement. “The damage amounted to 647,639,888 roubles.”

The Rio dry-cargo freighter was built in Japan and commissioned in 1985. At that time, the ship’s name was Super Venture. Since then, the bulk carrier has changed six names, and received the last one before the ill-fated voyage. The dry-cargo ship is planned to be removed in 2025, the Ministry of Transport of Russia included the vessel in the draft list of sunken properties, the removal of which is mandatory.

As for the fate of the wrecked Seamark dry-cargo ship, the final decision is up to the shipowner. “Various options are under consideration for raising the sunken ship from the bottom of the sea to the surface,” Rosmorrechflot added. “The decision is to be made by the captain of the Novorossiysk seaport and the shipowner.”