RIGA - More than 400 tons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the Baltic Sea after the "Golden Sky" cargo ship ran aground in Ventspils on Jan. 14, a cause for serious pollution concern.
As of Jan. 16, eight crewmembers remained aboard the stranded ship, as stormy weather conditions made rescue efforts nearly impossible. The vessel is stuck on a sand bar some five miles from the coast.
"Our rescue tug-boat is on stand-by next to the ship, and our team is ready to save the crewmembers if necessary," said Hermanis Cernovs, head of the Latvian Naval Coast Guard.
On Jan. 15, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis, Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks and other members of Latvia's Crisis Management Council visited the site after holding a meeting in Riga. Once the delegation arrived in Ventspils, they were joined by City Mayor Aivars Lembergs.
Surveying the area, Kalvitis said that stormy weather was the main matter of concern. If the strong wind and heave waves do not subside, experts fear that the ship may break in two or keel over. According to meteorologists, this may not happen until Jan. 20.
The Cyprus-registered cargo ship's owners have arrived in Latvia to asses the situation.
"So far, a Greek company has been hired to carry out the rescue work," Cernovs said. "They will work out a rescue plan and present it to Latvia's experts."
As of Jan. 15, fuel continued to leak from the ship, said Cernovs, with oil washing ashore. Helicopters at the scene reported an oil slick about 20 square meters in width around the vessel.
Clean-up officials said the oil was "streaming out" slowly 's a good sign for pollution control. Environmental rescue crews have already begun mopping up the oil.
This is the Baltics' third serious oil spill in one year. In March 2006, up to 40 tons of fuel leaked into the sea from a freighter that sank off the coast of Estonia. Just months earlier, the Runner 4, a Dominica-flagged cargo ship, sank in Estonian territorial waters near the Gulf of Finland, leaving a 35 kilometer long oil slick drifting toward the Baltic state's northeastern shore. The spill killed at least 3,500 birds and mucked up miles of sandy beaches - the worst environmental disaster in Estonia's history.