From: Associated Press
Published July 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Pollution Experts Head to Ship Grounded at Marine Reserve off Hawaii

HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard said it was sending experts to assess and cope with any environmental damage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine reserve after a ship ran aground on a remote atoll there over the weekend.

A Coast Guard C-130 plane hovering above the Casitas ship spotted a light sheen extending about a half-mile from the vessel, but authorities haven't been able to determine whether the discolored area was an oil spill or something else.

The ship ran aground at the Pearl and Hermes Atoll near the western end of a coral reef reserve stretching 1,200 nautical miles from the main Hawaiian islands to Midway. The reserve is home to endangered monk seals and sea turtles.

The Coast Guard said National Strike Force experts scheduled to leave Oahu Tuesday morning will supply an assessment of the accident when they reach the scene.

"They will go out to the Casitas to determine how much damage there is and how to remove the vessel," said Petty Officer Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard.


The vessel is loaded with an estimated 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 3,000 gallons of gasoline and 200 gallons of lubricating oil.

A Coast Guard plane first sighted on Sunday the sheen and a containment boom the Casitas had released the day before. The sheen spread outside the boom but had not appeared to grow in size in the 24 hours to Monday, Johnson said.

The seven crew and 16 researchers aboard the Casitas were on a mission to remove fishing nets and other debris from the marine reserve when the 145-foot vessel ran aground early Saturday about 1,000 miles northwest of Honolulu.

There were no injuries from the accident but water seeped into the ship's hull.

All 23 people from the vessel were evacuated to Midway Island and were due to fly back to Oahu via a C-130 transport plane Tuesday, Johnson said.

The waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an archipelago of small islands and atolls stretching 1,200 miles from the main Hawaiian isles, are designated a coral reef ecosystem reserve.

Source: Associated Press

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