Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Thursday it was investigating the head of the remote Arctic city of Norilsk for suspected criminal negligence over his handling of a major oil spill in the region, Reuters reported.
In a statement, investigators said the official, Rinat Akhmetchin, had failed to take appropriate measures to respond after more than 21,000 tonnes of oil products spilled out of a power station late last month.
According to the investigative website Meduza, the Investigative Committee also announced in a statement that the plant’s director, Pavel Smirnov, as well as the chief engineer Alexey Stepanov, and deputy chief engineer Yuri Kuznetsov, had all been arrested “for failing to ensure operational safety at an industrial facility.” They are set to be charged in the near future, at which point it will be determined whether or not they’ll face jail time.
Nikolai Utkin, the Vice President the Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company’s parent company, Norilsk Nickel, and the director of the company’s Polar Division, called the arrests unreasonably harsh, Interfax reports. “There is no reason to believe that our colleagues could interfere with the investigation. The leaders of the [heat and power plant] are cooperating with law enforcement agencies, and would be much more useful at the site of the accident right now,” he said.
Four criminal cases have been launched over the giant fuel spill at Norilsk’s Heat and Power Plant Number 3. So far there are only reports of one person being taken into custody in connection with the incident — the head of the power plant’s boiler and turbine workshop, Vyacheslav Starostin, Meduza noted.
The fuel spill in question took place on May 29. Diesel fuel spread into the ground around the plant, and spilled into the Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers, contaminating an 180,000 square meter area.
Officials in Krasnoyarsk Krai took two days to respond to the accident, claiming that experts led them to believe that there was no significant environmental damage. The region declared a state of emergency on June 3. Greenpeace Russia estimates that there is at least $86.3 million in damage to bodies of water in the region alone. Nornickel is planning to pay for the cleanup in full, and estimates that the costs will exceed $146 million.