The Hindu , 03 February 2006

Oil spill hits bird population in Baltic Sea

TALLINN (Estonia): Estonian President Arnold Ruutel visited the site of a major oil spill off the country's northwestern coast on Wednesday to examine the environmental damage to the Baltic Sea and its delicate bird population, authorities said.

The large oil spill, from an unidentified ship, was located this weekend in the coastal areas of Laane and Harju counties, some 100 km southwest of capital, Tallinn. At least some 5,000 birds including swans, ducks and sea gulls are estimated to have been contaminated, and hundreds already have died.

Mr. Ruutel urged authorities and volunteers to continue their fight against environmental catastrophes through updated equipment and increased training, Environment Ministry spokesman Harli Uljas said.

The National Rescue Board and some 30 volunteers were working in the area to clean the environment and the birds, which also have been found on the Finnish coast, Mr. Uljas said. Icy conditions were complicating the clean-up effort, as many of the contaminated birds were out in the sea.

Mr. Uljas said the Ministry suspected one of some 130 vessels that passed by Estonian territorial waters on Saturday deliberately leaked the oil into the sea.

``They knew what they were doing,'' Mr. Uljas said, adding that the Ministry has started a criminal investigation of the issue.

Hundreds of ships, including heavy tankers, ply the northern shores of the Baltic Sea daily, passing by vulnerable coastal areas with large bird populations. The Baltic Sea is a major transit route for oil tankers en route from Russia to Western Europe.