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Workers begin removing oil from Sea of Japan surface

January 9, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ Oil from the worst spill to hit Japan in 23 years has come ashore in four Japanese states, and officials warned today that strong winds could spread the slick even further.

So far, the western prefectures of Hyogo, Kyoto, Fukui and Ishikawa have been affected by the 962,000-gallon leak.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, said the spill extends over 940 miles of coastline, and called it Japan’s worst case of oceanic pollution in terms of area.

A Transport Ministry vessel began clean-up operations off the coast of Fukui this morning, said coast guard official Yoshio Osaki.

Fukui has been the hardest hit state since the Russian tanker Nakhodka broke in two in rough seas 90 miles off the coast Jan. 2. The tanker, bound for Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, was carrying 5 million gallons of fuel oil.

Its floating bow ran aground Tuesday about 200 yards off the town of Mikuni, about 200 miles west of Tokyo.

Osaki said there were no plans to try to move the bow, which still holds 728,000 gallons of fuel oil, which is thinner than crude but thicker and more difficult to clean up than kerosene or gasoline.

Clumps of oil up to 2 1/2 inches in diameter washed ashore today in the town of Kasumi, and a film of oil a half mile long appeared off the coast of Amino, said coast guard spokesman Shinji Sato.

Strong winds, high waves and poor visibility along much of the rugged coastline continued to hamper cleanup efforts.

About 400 people used heavy equipment, vacuums and buckets to clear oil today from beaches in the city of Kaga in Ishikawa prefecture, said city official Yuichi Mizui.

Thirty-one crew members from the ship were rescued, but the captain is still missing. The cause of the accident remains unknown.

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 spilled from a tank in southwestern Japan in 1974.

Update hourly