Salvage Team Reaches Wreck of Alaska Freighter; Ship Leaking Oil Badly
Dec. 13An oil spill in the heart of an Alaska wildlife refuge may not be as big as initially feared, but the harsh weather that first cracked a freighter in half still threatens to unleash thousands more gallons of viscous oil.
Salvage crews yesterday scrambled to figure out what to do with the grounded ship during a lull between storms. A Coast Guard helicopter lowered three men onto the stern of the wave-washed ship to assess the damage and gauge the ship's stability.
When the 738-foot Selendang Ayu ran aground in Alaska's Aleutian Islands Wednesday, people worried it could immediately unleash up to 480,000 gallons of thick bunker oil contained in tanks aboard the ship. Heavy seas cleaved the ship in half, and both portions of the ship are aground near the entrance to Skan Bay.
Early estimates put the initial release at around 140,000 gallons, with warnings that further oil could spill if more fuel tanks ruptured. But the Coast Guard now says a 40,000-gallon tank ruptured and its contents were emptied. Another tank that holds up to 104,000 gallons is leaking.
A tank with a 176,000-gallon capacity is in the bow portion of the ship, which was not inspected yesterday.
The Coast Guard now lowered its total estimate of bunker oil on board to 424,000 gallons.
The estimates and the successful tour of the stern portion of the ship offered the first glimmer of good news since the ship with a crew of 26 lost power in heavy seas Tuesday.
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