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Russian, Ukrainian Premiers Meet Near Site of Catastrophic Oil Spill


Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, have agreed to set up a joint working group to deal with a major oil spill along the coasts of the two countries.

The two men reached the agreement Tuesday as they met in Russia's seaport of Anapa, near Krasnodar. Mr. Zubkov is visiting the Kerch Strait area where crews are feverishly working to deal with a disaster local officials have called an ecological catastrophe.

Fierce storms that ripped through the area north of the Black Sea on Sunday tore apart an oil tanker, spilling some 2,000 tons of fuel oil.

Mr. Zubkov said weather was not entirely to blame. He said authorities must establish whether the accident was due to inadequate rescue services or, in his words, the Russian habit of leaving things to chance.

The governor of the Krasnodar region, Alexander Tkachev, says the spill has killed 30,000 birds. Bad weather continues to impede clean-up efforts.

An official with Russia's state environmental monitoring agency, Oleg Mitvol says he wants to build a barrier across the strait, to keep oil from reaching the Sea of Azov and damaging the ecosystem there.

The storm sank or broke apart at least five ships. The bodies of three sailors from a sunken cargo ship have washed ashore as rescuers search for five others still missing.

Russian news agencies quote Governor Tkachev as saying all the ship captains had received early storm warnings. The news agencies quote the governor as calling the disaster the result of irresponsibility.