Ship leaking fuel oil off Alaska

Ship leaking fuel oil off Alaska

Fuel oil gushing out of a grounded freighter off Unalaska Island is threatening marine life in the Bering Sea, officials say. But finding six missing crew members remains the priority for emergency efforts, despite slimming chances of survival in 6C (50F) waters.

The six plunged into the sea when a US Coast Guard helicopter crashed while evacuating them from the freighter. Four other people, including three coast guard members, were rescued.

The cause of the Wednesday's helicopter crash is still unknown.

The search for the missing crew continued on Friday, but rescue efforts were hampered by strong winds, heavy seas and the few hours of daylight in the area, 1,300km (800 miles) south-west of Anchorage. The missing crew members were reported to be from India and the Philippines. Survival time in the cold, heavy seas was estimated to be just three hours.

Species threatened

The 40,000-tonne Malaysian-flagged Selendang Ayu broke in two after running aground in the Aleutian chain of islands off south-western Alaska.

It had been drifting after its main engine broke down on Tuesday. The ship was carrying soya beans and around 480,000 gallons (2.3 million litres) of fuel oil.

The area where the spill happened is a sensitive wildlife habitat and crab fishery. "It's a serious spill, it's going to be very difficult to deal with," said Kurt Fredriksson, from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The US Coast Guard said earlier it was bringing oil containment equipment to Unalaska Island's Dutch Harbor to contain any spill. Wildlife in the area include several endangered of threatened species including Steller sea lions and Steller's eiders. It is also home to western Alaska sea otters whose population has dropped to low levels.

Published: 2004/12/10 16:48:57 GMT

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