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Officials Remove Oil From Grounded Barge; Will Assess Damage

December 22, 1992

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ A barge that hit an underwater ledge leaked an estimated 19,000 gallons of oil into Long Island Sound before the Coast Guard finished pumping out the ruptured tank.

Coast Guard officials said they will fly over the area at the mouth of the Thames River later today to track the movement of the spill of No. 2 heating oil and assess any environmental damage.

Workers succeeded in emptying the ruptured tank and stopped any further leaking at 10 p.m. Monday, about 17 hours after the accident, said Coast Guard Lt. Phillip Heyl.

Before dawn today, workers finished transferring the rest of the 1.3 million gallons of oil on the barge to another barge.

″It was a very complicated offloading operation, complicated by the fact that we did it at night in pretty choppy seas,″ Heyl said. ″It went very well.″

Coast Guard officials estimate that 19,000 gallons leaked into the sound, but won’t have a precise figure until they survey the area from the air today. By comparison, a 1989 spill of 420,000 gallons in Newport, R.I., closed shellfish beds and left oil on the beaches of three states.

The spill occurred when the 295-foot barge hit Black Ledge in the mouth of the Thames River Monday morning.

The unmanned barge, owned by Reinauer Transportation Co. of New York, was being pulled by a tugboat. The tug’s mate told investigators that background lighting in the harbor caused him to lose his sense of direction and steer in the wrong direction.

Environmental officials said Monday they didn’t believe the spill would pose much of a threat to the environment because of favorable wind and water current conditions.

David W. Tordoff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s response team said the spill had a ″medium potential″ for environmental damage. At this time of year, there are not many birds or fish in the area, he said.

″As long as it does not constantly occur, the environment is capable of handling it,″ he said. ″Chances are, the way the operation is going I’d say it’s probably not going to turn out to be as bad as we are ready for.″

Volunteers from the National Wildlife Association and Coast Guard officials planned to survey beaches today to determine any damage to wildlife, Heyl said.

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