Coal Dust Sprinkled On Mechel Head

Coal Dust Sprinkled On Mechel Head
Supervisory bodies repeatedly caught the Posiet trade port in Russia’s Primorski Krai (Territory) red-handed. However, the company didn’t mend its ways as it kept ignoring officials’ orders and warnings. Perhaps, it was Mechel that managed to achieve full understanding with the maritime administration.

At a meeting in with local stevedores, head of the Rosprirodnadzor environmental watchdog Svetlana Radionova asked “if there is a company in the hall that has not passed the expert examination.” The representative of Posiet (managed by LLC Management Company Mechel-Trans) was the only person who raised his hand, explaining that the delay was caused by an ongoing tender.

“If I stop you, will it go faster?” the Rosprirodnadzor official asked, but no reply was given.

And what could he say if Mechel stevedores had been on the verge of being stopped for several years in a row.

During an unscheduled inspection in July this year Rosprirodnadzor’s Pacific Marine Administration caught Posiet polluting water bodies, and ordered to clean up the territory of moorings No.1 and No.3, which were littered with spilled transshipment coal. A month before, governor Kozhemyako visited the port together with Mechel owner Mr Zyuzin; the two had an ostentatious discussion of environmental protection measures.

After reminding of four billion rubles invested in the port, Kozhemyako “forgot” to even rebuke Posiet for violations. He only complained that unlike the Nakhodka port, Posiet hadn’t signed an environmental safety agreement.

Meanwhile, back in March, Rosprirodnadzor found out that the company’s alleged "dust suppression actions" were odd, with no control over the effectiveness of the water gun. No one knows when and how it works, and water consumption was never recorded. A logical question is did the gun really work, or was it turned on only for the visiting inspectors? As we recall, local residents have an extremely low opinion of the stevedore who had failed to clean the air despite all this "watering."

During unscheduled inspections, Rosprirodnadzor repeatedly reminded Posiet about the second order issued back in November 2017, to equip its territory with installations legally required to protect the water body from pollution and depletion. But the company worked for several years without these facilities and palmed Rosprirodnadzor off with promises.

“The Nakhodka terminals equipment does not comply with sanitary regulations and norms. There are several schools and playgrounds nearby, and children play in a black sandbox. As is known, coal absorbs substances well. Researchers repeatedly proved that it is a health hazard,” said local resident Yekaterina.

Last year, it turned out that Mechel had not begun the monitoring of groundwater on its premises and exploration works to assess the reserves of drinking groundwater which had to be submitted for state expert examination. Despite the fact that the company’s license was issued on November 27, 2013 and the legal requirement to carry out an expert examination within three years, Rosprirodnadzor’s handling of Posiet is amazingly delicate.

Other supervisory bodies exposed violations at the port as well. Rostransnadzor found nine violations in Posiet in 2018 and as many in November 2017. Nothing has changed since.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer rights watchdog accused Posiet of violating the article on the sanitary protection zone, and Rostekhnadzor of violating industrial safety requirements. In 2016, Rospotrebnadzor exposed a whole bunch of violations at the port; for example, all company premises were covered with coal dust, the waste generation norms and disposal limits estimates did not include the warehouse coal waste, mandatory laboratory studies of the hazard class of such waste had not been carried out and no waste certificates had been shown to the inspectors.

The company did not have documents authorizing the use of the water body, consequently, it had no coastal or water-borne protective structures. Interestingly, if the port had not been captured by Mechel, but by a small and unknown company, would its owner already be a legal case suspect with a real prospect to spend several years in a dull prison cell without yachts and personal business jets?

However, the scheme tested by Mechel on anti-monopolists failed. In 2017, the regional branch of the Federal Antimonopoly Service found out that Posiet had been cheating with passes for merchant ships, especially foreign ones. For example, Zyuzin’s company did not let Pacific Agency ships enter the port under the pretext of the absence of contractual relations between them. It is common knowledge how much such delays cost. Probably, “Pacific” could solve the problem amicably with the Posiet port authorities, but for some reason did not, and complained to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service.

At the same time, Posiet had not published any information on the conditions for issuing badges and after the FAS order, it took the matter to the court to defend its free hand on three berths. However, the courts heeded the voice of the law and did not give any royal powers to Zyuzin's company.

The rest of Mechel's companies also behave freely, without regard to Russian laws. In 2018, Rostransnadzor’s scheduled check at Mechel-TRANS found it in complete disarray with ten documented violations: verifications were overdue, survey and washing of locomotive tanks had not been carried out, locomotive systems were faulty and their service life had expired long ago, and engine drivers were neither certified nor trained. Some didn’t even have field-specific education. Switch mechanisms on the tracks were faulty and watchmen at crossings had no signal horns, red bands or portable red shields.

Mechel-Trans Vostok fleeced workers, illegally deducting money from their salaries, forced them to work on weekends and didn’t give payrolls or employment record books to resigning employees. Port-Mechel Temryuk in Krasnodar Territory used berths No. 2, 5 and 6 with violations this year. In April, Rospotrebnadzor was unable to find a project to justify the sanitary protection zone (because no such project or zone existed). Instead, inspectors saw a pile of broken equipment in the pumping station on the premises, with trash in the yard, furnace oil spills on the ground and eleven stray dogs among all this splendor. Also in April, Rosprirodnadzor discovered wastewater discharge in the area between berths No. 2 and 5, and coal mud, traditional for Mechel, at the berthing front and fenders of berths No. 2, 5 and 6.

Rostransnadzor also recorded 17 violations at a routine inspection in JSC Port Kambarka a year ago. And this is scary, because there were emergency switchings as some equipment had been apparently stolen. Standard signs or signal posts were missing and “craftsmen” had replaced screws with spike nails. It is not surprising that in July 2017 there was an industrial accident involving a Port Kamchatka employee, but nobody bothered to report it to the State Labor Inspectorate.

You can probably write a novel on how Mechel enterprises violate Russian laws. Mechel OAO Board of Directors chairman is Igor Zyuzin, who owns more than 50% of company shares. Another 33% is owned by Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas.

As for other Far Eastern stevedores, it is already clear that their heads will roll together with senior Rosprirodnadzor officials’. The first in the line is head of the department for the Far Eastern District Altair Tyumenev. This is the main result of the inspection tour of Svetlana Radionova, who assessed the stevedores’ work. They were ordered to stop dusting and move to a closed coal transshipment system by 2020.

Not all companies have plans to switch to a closed system. Only six out of 15 have submitted reports on their implementation. Also, it is unclear when the stevedores will stop dusting. Some companies shrugged off the environmental expert examination which secured legal operation in the inland sea.

On top of that, each 2019 inspection found violations: exceeding the prescribed discharge norms, lack of facilities envisioned by law for the protection of water bodies, other water use violations and a lack of emission permits.

Meantime, all living things that come into contact with the sea perish in the Far East.

“We, the Civil Patrol Consumer Protection Fund, conducted environmental monitoring of the bottom of the bay to find out that there was no life in the coal terminals area, no matter what the stevedores say,” environmental activist Rostislav Antonov explained to Wek. Moreover, it is necessary to assess the environmental damage caused by the operation of these companies and the compensation they have to pay. We have appealed to the regional governor over this matter.”

This story says that eliminating dust is far from a whim, but a top officials’ order. The president knows the problem in detail and now it has turned from environmental to political with far-reaching consequences for incumbent regional officials and future elects.