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Officials Fear Weather Change Could Push More Oil Onto Washington Beaches

July 31, 1991

NEAH BAY, Wash. (AP) _ Crews working to clean up an oil spill that has killed or injured 1,000 birds braced today for high winds that could drive more oil onto Washington’s Pacific Coast.

Officials also planned to send a three-person submarine-like craft 500 feet into the ocean to examine the wrecked ship and try to stanch the leak.

Sticky, smelly oil has blotted at least four beaches along Washington’s coast. A light sheen of oil coated the shore from Cape Flattery, Washington’s most northwestern point, to Hoh Head about 40 miles south.

Oil-stained bald eagles have been seen flying near the coast. Four oil- coated sea otters have been spotted on Olympic National Park beaches. About 277 sea otters, federally listed as a threatened species, live along the coast.

Nearly 1,000 oil-soaked birds have been found - about 500 of them dead - even though most of the oil appears to have missed Washington’s fragile coast, officials said Tuesday.

″The birds are getting hammered. No question about that,″ state Department of Ecology spokesman Ron Holcomb said. ″But shoreline impacts are minimal. The bulk of the oil so far has passed us by.″

However, a marine front packing 25-knot winds from the west was forecast for today. That could drive the main body of oil back toward shore, said Bill Lehr of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Authorities who flew over the site of the sunken Japanese fish processor Tenyo Maru on Tuesday said the leak appeared to have slowed to a trickle or stopped.

″I wouldn’t count my chickens but things are looking good at the moment,″ said John Wiechert of Clean Sound Cooperative, an oil company cooperative formed to clean up oil spilled in Washington waters.

The Canadian Coast Guard planned tonight to send the submersible Pioneer, a small battery-powered craft, 500 feet down to inspect the sunken ship.

The main body of the spill was roughly halfway down the Washington coast by Tuesday night - about 100 miles south of where the Japanese fish processor Tenyo Maru sank after a collision with a Chinese freighter July 22. The ship was carrying about 273,000 gallons of bunker fuel and 91,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

About 60,000 gallons seeped out, according to state Department of Ecology official Jim Oberlander.

Dick Logan of the Ecology Department’s spill response unit said Tuesday the main oil slick was moving about 10 miles a day and could be off the Oregon coast in about four days.

Four skimmers under contract to the U.S. Coast Guard worked Tuesday to remove the oil-and-water mix on the surface. A fifth ship was retrieving larger debris - oil-soaked barrels and nets from the wreckage and other stuff caught in the oil. Crews also worked to clean the coast’s beaches, many of which have been closed to the public.

Update hourly