Russian delegation to discuss oil slick

Fri, Feb 20, 2009, 00:00

THE RUSSIAN navy plans to send a “high-level” delegation to Ireland to discuss the impact of the 500-tonne oil slick that is drifting eastwards off the Cork coast.

The Russian Federation’s embassy in Dublin confirmed to The Irish Times yesterday that a delegation, including a deputy commander and a team of experts, would travel here in the “coming days”.

The Russian navy also believes the pollution incident may have been caused during “cleaning” of the deck of its flagship, the 46,000-tonne aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, last weekend.

A spokesman for the embassy said the Russian navy was still not confirming or denying responsibility, but did not believe at this stage that it was caused during a refuelling operation in the sea area 80km southeast of the Fastnet Rock last weekend.

A request from the Department of Transport for samples of the fuel oil used by the aircraft carrier would be acceded to, the spokesman said.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, its refuelling tanker and its tug are en route up the northwest Irish coast and are “travelling home”, the spokesman said.

The Russian authorities have begun an internal investigation and are “very concerned”, the spokesman said. “We are ready to co-operate in every way,” he said.

The slick was moving very slowly eastwards yesterday towards the Kinsale gas fields, but the Irish Coast Guard is more optimistic about the chances of it avoiding the southeast coastline.

Winds are forecast to veer north to northwest, and weather conditions anticipated for the weekend could help to break it up naturally, the Irish Coast Guard believes.

However, emergency plans on both sides of the Irish Sea have been drafted in the event that the southeast counties or Welsh or English coastal areas are affected within the next fortnight.

Seabirds such as puffins and guillemots could be affected by the slick, measuring 40sq km on the surface of the water some 55km south of the Old Head of Kinsale.

The alert was raised during examination of routine satellite images collected by the CleanSeaNet oil spill detection service run by the European Maritime Safety Agency last Saturday. The agency is monitoring the progress of the slick, and has sent an anti-pollution vessel to Cork.

The Irish Coast Guard has already contracted a Foynes-based tug to use skimming equipment on the slick, but says the delay in notification of the incident by those responsible has severely hampered an effective response.