Report: Russian Ship Captains Ignored Black Sea Storm Warning That Caused Oil Spill

Two Russian officials suggested Tuesday that the captains of the ships that sank or ran aground during a fierce storm in the Black Sea were to blame for the accidents, Russian news agencies reported.

The storm Nov. 11 wrecked an oil freighter in the Kerch Strait separating Russia and Ukraine, resulting in a spill of 2,000 metric tons (560,000 gallons) of fuel oil that soiled miles of coastline and killed thousands of birds. The storm battered almost a dozen vessels in the strait.

Nikolai Lityuk, the acting head of the regional Emergency Situations Ministry, was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying that another 42 vessels that had sailed into the sea after forecasters issued a storm warning were not damaged.

"The decision has been made by the captains of the vessels, who had blind faith in sheer luck. However, the final answer on the extent of guilt will be given by investigators," Lityuk was quoted as saying.

Alexander Bedritsky, the head of the federal meteorological service Rosgidromet, said forecasters gave ships plenty of warning.

"The warning was issued with ample advance notice — 10 hours. It's important not only to have prompt issuance of a warning but also prompt use of this information," he was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying.

Officials have called the oil spill an environmental disaster that could inflict lasting damage on marine life.