Russian mayor charged over Arctic fuel spill resigns

Employees of Russia’s state-owned oil pipeline monopoly take part in a cleanup operation following a massive fuel spill outside Norilsk on June 10. Norilsk’s Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin has resigned after being charged with negligence last month over the spill. (Irina Yarinskaya/AFP via Getty Images)
The mayor of the Russian Arctic city of Norilsk, who was charged with negligence last month over a major fuel spill in the region, resigned on Monday, the RIA news agency reported.

State investigators opened a criminal case against Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin, after 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked from a tank near Norilsk on May 29.

Russia said in June that it had charged Akhmetchin with criminal negligence over what investigators said was his bungled response to a major environmental disaster.

In a statement, the Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, said Akhmetchin had failed to co-ordinate and organize emergency measures to contain and control fallout from the spill.

The charges, which could see the mayor jailed for up to six months if found guilty, came a day after investigators arrested three managers at the power station involved in the spill. They were suspected of having continued to use an unsafe fuel storage tank that had needed repairs since 2018.

In this handout photo provided by the Russian Marine Rescue Service, rescuers work to prevent the spread from an oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometres northeast of Moscow on June 2. (Russian Marine Rescue Service via AP)

The fuel tank at the power plant lost pressure and released diesel into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk, 2,900 kilometres northeast of Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently declared a state of emergency in the region.

Norilsk, a remote city of 180,000 people situated 300 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle, is built around Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer, and has a reputation for its pollution.

The damages including the cost for nearby water bodies were estimated at 147.05 billion rubles, $2.8 billion Cdn, and for subsoil, estimated at 738.62 million roubles, $14 million Cdn.

Russia’s state fishing agency said the Arctic river would need decades to recover.

Related stories around the North:

Canada: New “Frankenstein” shipping fuel could further pollute the Arctic, environmental groups say, Radio Canada International

Finland: Finland investigates oil leak risks from Baltic Sea shipwrecks, Yle News

Greenland/Denmark: Greenland and Denmark finalize cooperation agreement on marine pollution response, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: New guideline launched for Arctic-specific risk assessment in shipping, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland to restrict heavy fuel oil use in territorial waters, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russian watchdog seeks nearly $3B in damages over Arctic fuel spill in Siberia, Thomson Reuters

United States: Carnival Corporation ships switch to cleaner fuel on Arctic cruises, Radio Canada International

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