The full devastating effect of the Black Sea disaster has been exposed - sailors are missing, thousands of birds are dead and tests show the water is now completely unsafe. Ecologist fear it will take five years to fix the damage.
A massive oil slick remains where the Volganeft-139 tanker broke in half, spilling about 2,000 tonnes of oil into the water, and several other ships, carrying hazardous chemicals, sank during the region's worst storms for 30 years.
Thousands of birds were trapped in the oil spill for more than three days, freezing in the cold rain. Some were saved by local hunters.
Hundreds of kilometres of the Azov Sea coast are also covered in thick oil, meaning local fishermen are out of work.
"This operation will take five years. We'll basically gather a 'black water gulf' there, and then we'll gather the suspended oil from the still water using modern technologies," Oleg Mitvol, from the Environmental Oversight Agency, said.
Sea water tests show the level of oil is 50 times above the maximum permitted levels.
Igor Chestin from the World Wildlife Fund says the clean-up operation will be more difficult, if the oil sinks to the seabed.
"Unfortunately, these are the heavy fractions of oil - mazut - which is heavier than water, so it actually sinks. Because of the storm, most oil is still staying on the water surface. But when the storm will go down it will settle on the bottom in probably quite a large area," he explained.
1,500 rescue and cleanup workers are at the site at the moment and 500 people more are due to arrive. Locals say they are also doing what they can to clean the coastline.
The body of one more sailor has been found in the Kerch Strait. All in all more than 60 have died, and 19 others are still missing. ( RT )