New initiative aims to remove bodies and cars from Lake Khuvsgul
Lake Khuvsgul, which is located in the northwest of Mongolia, is the largest freshwater lake in the country in terms of volume. It spans 136 kilometers and reaches depths of 262 meters. The lake holds almost 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water and 0.4% of all fresh water in the world. Not only is the lake a vital source of fresh water, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful and has amazed visitors for decades. Lately, however, concerns have been raised regarding pollution of the lake by the many vehicles that have fallen into the lake (usually as a result of driving on the ice) over the past 50 years.
The various government ministries and agencies that are responsible for protecting Mongolia’s natural resources have discussed the issue of vehicles polluting the lake, but have so far taken little action to remove the sunken vehicles or to prevent further vehicles falling in.
Recognizing the pollution being caused by the vehicles in Lake Khuvsgul, the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) has begun seeking funds and equipment needed to remove the vehicles from the lake. Delegates of the NCF are set to visit Russia to request assistance from related organizations there in obtaining the required equipment and skilled personnel to remove the vehicles, and to retrieve the bodies of the people who sank with them
Journalists from the Udriin Shuudan newspaper interviewed the Head of the NCF, Sh.Purevdorj, regarding the issue.
-How many vehicles are in Lake Khuvsgul?
-Approximately 40 vehicles have ended up in the lake since 1960. Three of these were carrying fuel. This issue was discussed by the Standing Committee on Environment, Food and Agriculture recently. Member of Parliament L.Enkh-Amgalan of Khuvsgul Province asked me to study the issue and determine how much it will cost to clean the lake. He agreed to assist in fundraising if the cost of the cleanup is within reach. He further stated that the first thing to do would be to remove the three vehicles that are full of fuel, as these have the potential to spread fuel throughout the lake and cause great damage.
When I studied more about the sunken vehicles, I found out that only two of the drivers of these vehicles had survived. I spoke to the Protection Authority of Khuvsgul National Park about meeting with the survivors.
The Emergency Management Agency divers of Russia have conducted joint training with our officers in the past, so we are planning to seek help from them. We will go to Moscow or Irkutsk to meet with the relevant organizations. Pollution from Lake Khuvsgul might affect Lake Baikal, so we hope the Russian officials will not reject our proposal. We would like to conduct joint research into the possibility of removing the vehicles, with the help of their divers. The NCF is also in contact with the Lake Baikal Ecological Council about the matter.
There’s no current data regarding the level of pollution in Lake Khuvsgul. We believe that the metal of the cars is being eroded very slowly, because the lake is a freshwater lake. If it was Lake Uvs, a salt water lake, the vehicles would have eroded much faster and the fuel would be spread all over the lake.
-How much funding will be required to conduct the research and clean up? Have you calculated this?
-Numerous non-governmental organizations have proposed to clean Lake Khuvsgul in the past, but the high cost of the operation and the lack of equipment have meant that they could not do so. There’s no clear estimate of the cost, but it is likely to be very expensive. We decided to start the research work this summer using NCF’s own funds. We have spoken with experts from the USA regarding possible methods to locate the sunken vehicles at the bottom of the lake. They suggested using special equipment, but it costs at least 1 million USD. We hope that the Russians have the equipment, and we can use it for a reasonable price. We will request that they bring their divers to Lake Khuvsgul to undertake research into whether it is possible to remove the vehicles. We have to quickly determine the level of corrosion of the vehicles.
-I presume the vehicles sank into the deepest part of the lake, as they are so heavy. What is your guess?
-Many of the vehicles that are in the water fell in during winter, when the lake was frozen (the ice broke). The vehicles passed along the edge of the lake, so we estimate that they didn’t sink to the deepest part but are located at depths of around 100m. It would not be that challenging for the Russians to remove the vehicles from the lake if they are only at depths of 100 m. We have to think not only of the vehicles but also about the bodies of the accident victims. Many are still there. It is necessary to bury them with respect. I am sure the victims’ families want this too.
Once, a nuclear submarine had an accident and sank in Russia, and over 200 people perished. Their bodies were removed from the submarine, which was located several hundred meters deep. Therefore, we hope the Russian divers will help us to at least bring up the bodies, so that we can bury them properly. It would be of great significance to the victims’ families.
-What is your estimation regarding how many bodies are inside the sunken vehicles?
-Aproximately 40 vehicles sank in the lake, but only two drivers survived, as I mentioned earlier. If we estimate that there were three people inside each lorry and six people inside each UAZ-469, on average, when the accidents occurred, there are likely to be many bodies in the vehicles.
-Vehicle corrosion and fuel are undoubtedly polluting Lake Khuvsgul. But will this pollution also affect Lake Baikal and the Selenge River?
-Only one river flows from Lake Khuvsgul, which is the Eg River. This flows to the Selenge River which further flows to Lake Baikal. As a result, pollution from Lake Khuvsgul will be carried into Lake Baikal.
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