Saturday, 5 March 2011

Fuel Tanker Disaster On Frozen Lake Khovsgol

Khovsgol Nuur in northern Mongolia is a pristine lake, sister to Lake Baikal just 200 km away in Russian Siberia. It contains 1% of the whole world's fresh water and is one of Mongolia's favourite tourist destinations. Surrounded by high mountains populated by numerous rare species of plants, animals and fish, the area is a designated National Park and horseback is more or less the only means of transport. In winter the lake freezes to a depth of nearly one metre making travel much easier - vehicles simply drive on top of the frozen water and can cover the 100km length of the lake in a single day.

On 8th February two Ural trucks belonging to the NIC oil company, carrying a total of 13,250 litres of petrol, set out from Moron town headed for Tsagaan Nuur in Rinchenlumbe district in the far north of the province. Tragically, just 200 meters from the shore and not far from the place where the tankers should get off the ice and head up into the mountains over Jigleg Pass, the ice cracked and led to this double disaster.

One truck sank straight to the bottom of the lake, where it remained upright and divers believe that no fuel was lost from the sealed tanker. The co-driver died with the vehicle and his body was recovered from a depth of 45 meters. The driver of that vehicle, and of the second vehicle which was stuck half-submerged on the lake surface, both survived and are being questioned by police.

Rescue workers from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, as well as from the Lake Khovsgol Protected Area team and NIC company, assisted in the recovery of the trucks. In a measure to minimise the environmental damage of the disaster, they cut out surface ice 4 metres x 10 metres and a thickness of 80 - 90 cm in order to suck out fuel that had escaped to pollute this pristine lake. The courage of the rescue workers has been honoured by the Vice President and each has been presented with a medal celebrating their loyalty to the State.

Accidents like this have been happening every winter for decades. Isn't it time, in the interests of health and safety, that regulations should forbid driving on Lake Khovsgol ?

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