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15,000 birds died, 20,000 poisoned in Russian oil slick

Image: A poisoned and oil covered bird lies dying in front of local volunteers removing oil pollution from the Black Sea shore in the port Kavkaz, 13 November 2007. A major oil spill off the southern coast of Russia could take months to clear, a top environmentalist said on Wednesday as the first charges were brought over the accident.(AFP/File/Alexander Nemenov)

A major oil spill off the southern coast of Russia killed over 15,000 birds and poisoned over 20,000, the state agricultural and natural resources monitoring agency said Wednesday.

"By now we have registered documented deaths of 12,839 bald coots, 811 great crested grebes, 171 ducks, 877 cormorants, two swans and one pheasant," the agency said in a statement.

"It is impossible to determine the exact number of perished birds due to the fact that the dead birds were swept to the beach and covered by some 50-centimeter layer of a shell-and-oil mixture," the statement added.

"Oil poisoning was registered in now surviving 19,500 bald coots, 21 grebes, some 350 ducks, and 755 cormorants, and the possibility that they may die is very high," the agency warned.

Some 2,000 tonnes of fuel oil seeped into environmentally sensitive waters of the Kerch Strait in the northeastern corner of the Black Sea, after a fierce storm on Sunday wrecked five ships including an oil tanker.

The level of oil spilled in the Kerch Strait, some 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) south of Moscow, is 50 times the limit allowed for fishing, environmental monitoring agency Rosgidromet said in a statement on Wednesday.

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