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Coast Guard Team Helps Stricken Tanker

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2001 – A 10-member U.S. Coast Guard team is helping Ecuadorian authorities deal with diesel fuel leakage from a tanker ship that ran aground Jan. 16 off the Galapagos Islands.

Coast Guard spokesman Capt. David Westerholm told reporters at a Jan. 25 Pentagon news briefing that oil-spill specialists from the National Strike Force based in Mobile, Ala., flew down to the island of San Cristobal Jan. 21 to help the Ecuadorian Navy and local workers.

Strike force members are trained to respond to oil and hazardous material incidents throughout the United States, Westerholm said. He added that the team occasionally assists foreign nations, noting the unit provided its expertise in Kuwait during the Gulf War.

As of early Tuesday, the strike force team had pumped some 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel from the Ecuadorian-flagged tanker Jessica into a barge, said Westerholm, chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Response. Heavy seas and instability of the wreck stopped the pumping operation with about 8,200 gallons of fuel to go.

“The vessel took a more severe list … and conditions became too hazardous to continue,” he said. Most of the 160,000 gallons believed aboard the 260-foot-long tanker had escaped into the sea before the team arrived, he added.

The Coast Guard and representatives from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration remain on site to provide continuing assistance to the Ecuadorians, Westerholm said. NOAA is helping Ecuadorian officials in plans to control, recover and clean up the spilled oil and efforts to protect affected wildlife, he said.

The government of Ecuador, he added, had asked for assistance from the U.S. State Department, which then requested Coast Guard help in controlling the spill. The Galapagos Islands are about 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador.

Westerholm said the Ecuadorian navy, in charge of operations and salvage, is trying to right the vessel. "At that point, we would return to the Jessica to see if there is any residual oil on board that can be” removed, he said.

Westerholm said the Coast Guard could also help the Ecuadorians patch the Jessica to put it in a seaworthy condition for towing to safety or for scuttling farther out at sea.

Officials say the tanker began leaking its cargo of diesel and bunker fuel oil about four days after it went aground on rocks about a half mile off San Cristobal Island. Much of the spill is expected to drift and dissipate in the open ocean, they remarked. That would spare most of the sea lions, sea turtles and other wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and, in recent years, have made the Galapagos a popular tourist spot.

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