Mishap lays onus
on debris cleanup

Fuel leaks from a grounded
ship sent to help coral atolls

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has questions about continuing an annual program to remove tons of marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands -- performed by a ship that ran aground.

No one on the 145-foot Casitas was injured Saturday morning in the grounding at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, about 1,000 miles northwest of Oahu. The cause of the grounding is still under investigation.

The ship was working for NOAA and has aboard 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 3,000 gallons of gasoline and 200 gallons of lubricating oil.

At least some of the petroleum products appear to have spilled from the grounded vessel, but it is not clear how much, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Jennifer Johnson.

Coast Guard members flying a C-130 Hercules plane over the site yesterday observed a light sheen extending about a half-mile south of the vessel, Johnson said.

A Coast Guard National Strike Force Team Pacific, which specializes in marine environmental response, arrived yesterday on Oahu from California and will head to the accident scene today, Johnson said. The 10-member team will assess environmental damage and plan how to rescue the grounded vessel, she said.

Meanwhile, NOAA officials do not know yet what will become of its annual marine debris removal program, NOAA spokeswoman Wende Goo said.

"Our first concern was making sure everybody got back safely," Goo said. "About 8:30 a.m. this morning, our people reached Midway Island."

All six crew members and 17 scientific personnel from the marine debris voyage are expected to return to Oahu tomorrow on the plane that delivers the disaster team, Johnson said.

The NOAA research ship Oscar Elton Sette, which had been returning to Oahu after a month monitoring lobster populations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, will stay in the area to further assist with the recovery effort.

The Coast Guard Cutter Walnut, which carries oil spill emergency equipment, is expected to arrive at the grounding site in two days.

Marine debris cleanups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands removed 69 tons of debris in 2001, 108 tons in 2002, 122 tons in 2003 and 123 tons in 2004.

The debris consists of nets and other items that can entangle endangered Hawaiian monk seals, threatened green sea turtles and other marine animals that live in the remote islands.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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