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Oil Spill Reported Under Control; Some Antarctic Birds Wiped Out

February 10, 1989

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Workers have cleaned up most of the oil spilled into Antarctic waters from a sunken Argentine ship, but the accident wiped out a colony of baby birds that scientists were studying, officials said Friday.

Lt. Jose Araya of the Chilean navy said the oil leak from the ship was stopped after divers patched the damaged hull of the vessel, the Bahia Paraiso.

But a National Science Foundation official at the Palmer Station, a U.S. Antarctic research facility near where the ship ran aground on Jan. 28, said the oil that spill from the vessel has wiped out a colony of skua chicks.

Bernhard Lettau, program manager for polar ocean sciences for the foundation, said the oil killed all but six chicks in a rookery of 53 nests. The skua is a predator bird related to the seagull.

″In another two days, we expect the remaining chicks also to be dead,″ Lettau said by conference call to reporters in Washington.

The deaths of the birds means that no chicks will be produced this year from a rookery that American scientists have studied for years on the Antarctic peninsula, about 600 miles from the tip of South America.

Lettau also said two seals examined seemed to be having difficulty breathing, some dead gulls were found and mortality has been ″very high″ among limpids and sponges living near beaches touched by the fuel oil.

American scientists are still evaluating the oil spill and ″the total effect is not yet known,″ he said.

Thomas Forehand, ocean project manager for the National Science Foundation, said it is doubtful that the Argentine vessel can be refloated because its damage is so great. It is hoped that it can be it cut apart and removed, he said.

Officials are worried about removing the remaining fuel oil and drums of gasoline from the the vessel without creating another spill.

The United States, Argentina and Chile have been working to clean up the wreckage, the first real environmental threat to the untouched Antarctic.

Araya said a special skimming boat from the United States has cleaned up most of the oil slick. Asked in a telephone interview whether the problem is considered under control, Araya replied, ″I would say so.″

Araya said the skimming boat had cleaned up Palmer Bay two miles from the ship. The skimming craft was being used Friday inside a ring of floating booms set up around the ship to contain the leak.

The emergency craft is supported by the Polar Duke, a National Science Foundation vessel that traveled to the spill carrying 52 tons of cleanup equipment.

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