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Cleanup begins on oil spill from Russian tanker

January 5, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ Three coast guard ships dumped chemicals into the water Sunday to break up a massive fuel slick that has been drifting toward the Japanese coast since a Russian tanker sank three days ago.

The edge of the 962,000 gallon spill was about 45 miles off Japan’s western coast, not far from the city of Fukui, and was moving slowly toward shore, the Japanese coast guard said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the spill was about 1.1 miles long and 990 feet wide, said a coast guard official who would only give his last name, Uchida.

Earlier Sunday, the coast guard had estimated the dimensions of the spill to be much larger. Uchida said the oil slick was spreading but also was collecting into various spots in the ocean.

The coast guard sent planes early Sunday for an aerial view of the spill.

The tanker Nakhodka bound for Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula was carrying about 5 million gallons of fuel oil when it broke in half Thursday in the Sea of Japan, about 90 miles off Japan’s western coast. The Japanese coast guard said Sunday that the rest of the oil probably remains in a section of the tanker lying on the ocean floor.

The spilled oil is thinner than crude oil but much thicker than gasoline or kerosene.

Ships continued to search for the tanker’s captain. The other 31 crew members were rescued. The cause of the accident remains unclear.

A salvage ship began retrieving the floating front part of the tanker early Sunday, but efforts were halted after about an hour because of rough seas, Uchida said.

The effects on fishing were uncertain. Many Japanese fishermen are not working now because of the New Year holidays.

Akihiko Kuwahara of the Kyoto Institute of Fishery Science, a local government agency that oversees fishing in the nearby Kyoto area, said the spill had not reached coastal fishing grounds.

``We are worried and we are watching the situation closely. But this time of the year, there isn’t much fishing,″ he said in a telephone interview.

The sinking has worsened an energy crisis in the Russian Far East. With existing fuel stocks projected to run out Jan. 12, regional officials imposed fuel conservation measures Saturday, the Interfax news agency reported.

A Russian emergency panel, created after the ship sank, planned to limit the supply of electricity and hot water to residents of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and nearby towns, where most of the Kamchatka Peninsula’s half a million people live.

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