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Cleanup continues as oil spill spreads, killing birds

January 10, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ Dead birds covered in oil washed up on a sludge-soaked beach Thursday as crews used shovels, ladles and hoses to clear one of Japan’s worst oil spills ever.

The Japanese army sent 150 soldiers to Mikuni on Japan’s western shore _ the area worst hit by the 962,000 gallon slick from a sunken Russian tanker _ to help with the cleanup.

Using ladles and shovels, as well as 13 vacuum trucks that suck up oil through hoses, nearly 1,000 people collected 32,500 gallons, or 625 barrels, of sludge.

Ever since the tanker split in two a week ago, 90 miles off the coast, there have been fears about damage to wildlife.

Kyoto Prefecture official Kei Sasa said two seagulls weak from oil on their feathers were rescued Wednesday. They were bathed and sheltered overnight but one died Thursday.

Volunteers patrolling the beaches found three dead oil-muddied birds Thursday _ the first of what rescuers fear will be many, Sasa said. When sullied with oil, birds often become unable to float and drown.

``What we are also afraid is that more birds will die from organ damage if they preen the oil off their feathers with their beaks,″ Sasa said. ``There’s no way we can save them.″

In Mikuni, people smeared with oily grease worked all day amid lightly falling snow, forming a long chain on the rocky shore to pass along buckets filled with mudlike oil.

But the bow of the 13,157-ton Nakhodka, which ran aground Tuesday near Mikuni, Fukui Prefecture, continued to leak more oil into the water. Coast guard officials said stormy seas made salvaging the bow or stopping the leak too risky.

``We have a long ways to go,″ said Mikuni official Tadatoshi Kadoe. ``We’re working hard to clean up but the oil keeps coming.″

The slick hit the secluded scenic village 200 miles west of Tokyo late Tuesday. By Thursday, the slick had come ashore in several areas up and down the coast, and the coast guard expected more areas to be affected.

Steam shovels dug up sand speckled with globs of oil in nearby Ishikawa Prefecture. The Japanese government sent a ship to scoop up the slick still at sea.

Fishermen say the oil has ruined the coastal seaweed and shellfish. Nationally televised news showed seaweed blackened with oil being dragged out of the waters. The effect on crab and fish in deeper waters is still uncertain.

Tourism, another major source of livelihood for the region, is also likely to suffer.

The spill is only a fraction of the massive 11 million-gallon spill by the tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. But it is Japan’s worst spill since 2 million gallons poured from a tank in southwestern Japan in 1974.

Update hourly