Russia opens criminal investigation over pollution off Far East

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday opened a criminal investigation to determine the cause of the unexplained toxic pollution off its Far Eastern coast that killed marine animals and resulted in their carcasses being washed ashore.
Last week, Greenpeace warned of an ecological disaster in waters off the Kamchatka region, a volcanic peninsula in the Pacific. The WWF protection group said the pollution was very likely caused by a highly toxic soluble substance.
Scientists told regional authorities on Tuesday that almost all marine life on the seabed of Avacha Bay - on the southern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula - had been killed and only a small number of large fish, shrimp and crabs survived.
The Investigative Committee, a Russian equivalent of the US FBI, said dead marine life washed up on the coast from September 1 to October 3, and that the water contained oil components including phenol and changed color.
No suspects were named in his investigation.
Aerial photos of the online area showed that the water had turned yellow in some places.
Law enforcement said the pollutant was very similar to industrial oil or a similar substance. It said it was looking into all possible sources of the pollution, including a nearby facility that stores pesticides.
Suspected violations of the handling of environmentally hazardous substances and pollution of the marine environment were investigated.
Dmitry Kobylkin, the minister for natural resources and the environment, said on Wednesday that those responsible would be punished.
"There can be no compromise here, as with the situation in Norilsk," he said, referring to a major fuel spill in the Russian Arctic in May. "Citizens' well-being in relation to the environment and the conservation of ecosystems come first."
Kobylkin initially said that water and land samples showed no evidence of elevated levels of oil or oil products and that the pollution did not appear to be man-made.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Anastasia Lyrchikova; additional reporting by Alexander Marrow, Polina Devitt and Tom Balmforth; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Hugh Lawson)
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