Cleanup continues at freighter grounding site

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Bolstered by relatively calm seas, a salvage team continued fuel removal efforts Thursday from the wrecked Selendang Ayu off the coast of Unalaska Island in the Aleutians.

Working in 5-foot seas, salvage crews pumped leftover sludge from one tank and were "drilling very slowly" to reach a lower fuel oil tank, Coast Guard officials said. Crews plan to tackle that tank today, when conditions are expected to slightly improve, said Petty Officer Thomas McKenzie.

Federal wildlife officials also announced the release of dozens of orange floats to replicate the drift pattern of more than 350 birds found dead since the Malaysia-flagged freighter ran aground and broke apart Dec. 8, causing a major fuel spill.

Salvage crews had collected more than 10,000 gallons of fuel oil from the grounded soybean freighter as of Wednesday, McKenzie said. Crews first pumped out more than 3,000 gallons of diesel and water from the stern section of the 738-foot vessel Monday.

This week afforded the first opportunity in the storm-wracked Bering Sea to begin collecting fuel still on board. Most of the estimated 442,000 gallons of fuel once on the boat is believed lost.

The freighter, loaded with soybeans en route from Tacoma, Wash., to China, was carrying an estimated 424,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil and 18,000 gallons of diesel when it grounded, two days after its crew shut down the main engine to do some repair work.

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