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Oil-Laden Tanker Sinks Off Italian Riviera

April 14, 1991

GENOA, Italy (AP) _ The Cypriot-registered tanker Haven sank Sunday, carrying nearly 41 million gallons of crude oil to the bottom and magnifying fears of an environmental disaster along the Italian Riviera.

Port officials said the ship sank in the Mediterranean 1 1/2 miles from shore.

The Haven appeared to have sunk intact - giving officials hope that the oil on board could be salvaged with minimal spillage. Port officials on Saturday expressed worry that the ship might break up as it went down, releasing the crude.

The 990-foot-long tanker, which for days had sent a wall of black smoke over the sea, sank about 4 1/2 hours after an explosion Sunday morning. Three other blasts had rocked it on Saturday.

The vessel’s bow was already on the floor of the Mediterranean and its propellers out of the water on Saturday as it was devoured by fire. On Sunday morning the fire and smoke were smothered by the sea and only steam briefly hovered over the waves.

The spectacle drew thousands of people to the shores of the Italian Riviera for days as the ship threatened its famous beaches with its oozing black cargo.

In Rome, the government on Saturday declared a state of emergency, making the region eligible for special aid. There was no estimate on the amount of oil spilled from the tanker.

A Genoa port official, speaking on condition of anonymity, gave an ″extremely rough″ estimate of nearly 15 million gallons of oil burned off during the fire, caused by an explosion Thursday in which three crewmembers were killed.

Experts also said the extreme heat of the fires burning for almost three days had likely given the oil the consistency of caramel and thus would be easier to remove than liquid.

However, many people were still worried that it oil might damage the sea, its wildlife and the tourist industry of coastal Italy and nearby France.

The ship fire was ignited by an explosion believed to have been caused by crewmen cleaning an empty hold.

Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, said the oil covered 15 square miles.

Seas were calm, but currents were moving the oil westward.

The tanker came to rest in about 240 feet of water off Arenzano, 14 miles from Genoa.

Oil containment booms were already in place a few hundred yards off Arenzano when the ship sank. Salvage crews laid them Saturday, when it became apparent that the fire was burning out of control.

Genoa officials said some tar, formed from burning oil, washed ashore at Varazze and Savona, west of Genoa. But they said anti-pollution teams had cleaned it up.

A team of French pollution experts was in Genoa and British and American experts had also been contacted for possible help.

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