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Long, Grimy Cleanup on Delaware River; Worst Over in Rhode Island Spill With PM-Ship Traffic,

June 27, 1989

Long, Grimy Cleanup on Delaware River; Worst Over in Rhode Island Spill With PM-Ship Traffic, Bjt

CLAYMONT, Del. (AP) _ A prematurely dropped anchor may have contributed to an 800,000-gallon oil spill in the Delaware River that had hundreds of workers today gathering blobs of ″black Jell-O″ that mechanical skimmers couldn’t suck up.

The spill was one of three that occurred in U.S. waters over the weekend.

More civilian and military workers were pressed into service this morning to clean up the Delaware oil, and the state sued in federal court to recover damages from the owners of the Uruguayan tanker that caused the spill.

In Texas, Tropical Storm Allison slowed the cleanup of a 240,000-gallon spill in the Houston Ship Channel. Off Rhode Island, most of the estimated 420,000 gallons of oil from a grounded Greek tanker no longer threatened the shore.

Officials in charge of the Delaware cleanup were concerned about a forecast for 95-degree heat, which could liquefy the oil.

″When we’ve got it in chunks, we can pick it up; when it’s flowing, you can’t pick it up with a pitchfork,″ said Coast Guard Capt. Larry Murdock.

More than 500 people, including 300 Delaware National Guardsmen, and 22 boats were involved in the cleanup today. In Philadelphia, Coast Guard spokesman David Oney said this morning that Delaware was sending 150 more Guardsmen.

″So far, we’ve recovered 63,826 gallons from the spill,″ Oney said.

In the search for the causes of the spills, two Coast Guard hearings began this morning.

In Texas, the pilot of the tanker Rachel-B, which collided with an oil barge owned by Coastal Towing Co. of Houston, testified that he was unable to make a proper turn from the Bayport Channel into the Houston Ship Channel.

″It could have been caused by too much sediment in the channel,″ pilot Michael Gale said.

In Providence, R.I., Capt. David G. Leonard, a harbor pilot, testified that he radioed three warnings to the tanker that ran aground but could not be certain the message was received.

Gov. Edward DiPrete testified that he asked the tanker captain, Iakovos Georgoudis, ″Why were you in that location which requires a pilot to be on board?″

″He said, ’That was my mistake,‴ DiPrete said. ″He made no bones about it.″

Coast Guard Capt. Eric Williams said no evidence of mechanical failure had been found.

Along 20 miles of the Delaware River, workers in boats scooped up blobs of congealed oil larger than basketballs, stuffing the goo into large trash bags. Skimmers dispatched after the Uruguayan tanker Presidente Rivera ran aground Saturday jammed in the dense oil blobs.

″It’s like black Jell-O, it’s horrible,″ said Joseph Monigle of New Castle, Del., as he watched workers from the shore.

A lawyer representing the insurance company covering the Presidente Rivera says the spill was caused by the crew dropping anchor prematurely as the ship prepared to dock at the Sun Oil terminal in Marcus Hook, Pa.

Attorney A. Robert Degen said after the ship swung around to pick up the anchor, ″the decision was made to turn the ship around and head to Marcus Hook. In the course of turning the ship around, the bow struck the bottom.″

Coast Guard officials scheduled a hearing Wednesday in Philadelphia on the spill.

Federal officials said shoreline damage in Pennsylvania and Delaware was light because the oil congealed instead of spreading across the surface of the water. Winds and tides spared New Jersey.

Delaware Fish and Wildlife officers found about 25 Canada geese soaked with oil Monday near the mouth of the Christiana River, which feeds the Delaware River, Coast Guard spokesman David Oney said.

In Rhode Island, there had been some reports of lobsters killed and several small birds found dead, but officials said those did not appear to be widespread. Some state beaches were being reopened today.

A statewide shellfishing ban remained in effect, and seafood prices increased. Ron Pariseau, manager of Handrigan Seafood, said wholesale steamer claims jumped from $55 to $85 a bushel during the past week, while flounder went from 40 cents to 95 cents a pound. At retail, flounder filets that cost $4.49 a pound 10 days ago were selling for $5.99 a pound.

No more than five percent of the oil that spilled from the World Prodigy after it hit a reef remained floating, officials said Monday.

″The worst is over,″ said Debbie Payton of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. ″There’s not going to be any more shoreline impacts like there were at the beginning.″

In Texas, the storm slowed the cleanup, but workers have been able to collect nearly 4,000 or the 6,000 barrels of oil.

In Washington, a spokesman for President Bush accused the oil industry of moving too slowly on oil-spill cleanup technology and said the three spills highlight ″the pervasiveness of the problem.″

Presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the administration has proposed legislation to give tanker owners ″first level of responsibility″ for paying cleanup costs. He ruled out a moratorium on new oil drilling and exploration.

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