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Acid-Filled Tanker Aground On Mexican Pacific Coast

June 30, 1993

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A tanker full of highly corrosive sulfuric acid was aground in heavy seas Wednesday near a Pacific Coast resort and leaking slightly, the Mexican navy reported.

″There are heavy seas and quite a big storm, making salvage work difficult. But the leaks are slight,″ Mexican navy spokesman Carlos Ferreira said in a telephone interview.

The Norwegian tanker Betula got stuck in the sand near the resort of Playa Azul, some 250 miles southwest of Mexico City late Tuesday or early Wednesday after drifting for a day.

The tanker had been unloading the acid in the port of Lazaro Cardenas when the pumping mechanism started leaking acid into the water. The crew was evacuated and the Betula towed out to sea, but the tow cable snapped and the tanker started drifting.

About 4,000 tons of sulfuric acid are still aboard, along with about 300 tons of fuel oil. Mixing the acid and oil could cause an explosion, but Ferreira said such a possibilty was remote.

Sulfuric acid, also known as hydrogen sulfate or battery acid, is a highly corrosive liquid that can cause small explosions and produce asphyxiating gas when mixed with water. The acid also could kill fish and other marine life in the area.

It was not immediately known if the acid was leaking from the pumping equipment or from the tanks. Even a small amount of acid leaking from the tanks could burn holes in the ship and worsen the leak, said Dr. Federico Garcia of the National University’s Chemical Institute.

The navy wants to unload the acid from the Betula into another tanker, but has been prevented by the rough weather.

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