Oil Spill Shuts Down River

Oil Spill Shuts Down River Divers found a six-foot gash in a cargo tank on the Greek-owned tanker that leaked 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River, spokesmen for the Coast Guard and the vessel's owner said Sunday.

Also, the Coast Guard said 17 ships were blocked from entering or leaving the Port of Philadelphia as the cleanup continues.

The spill - the worst on the river in nearly a decade - stranded commercial vessels trying to move goods through the busy Port of Philadelphia, killed or injured hundreds of birds and angered residents along shoreline communities.

Divers exploring the listing Athos I on Saturday found holes in the underwater cargo tank closest to the stern, or rear, of the vessel and in an outside ballast tank, said Jim Lawrence, a spokesman for the Greek shipping company Tsakos Shipping and Trading SA.

A captain was on board the 750-foot tanker, and two tug boats were guiding it toward the dock in Paulsboro, N.J., where the Venezuelan crude oil was being delivered to a Citgo Petroleum Corp. refinery, when the leak was discovered late Friday.

While the company maintained Sunday that something underwater struck the tanks, the Coast Guard investigation has not yet confirmed that scenario, Lt. Buddy Dye said.

Meanwhile, more than 300 workers fanned out along the riverbanks Sunday on both sides of the Delaware as the assessment and cleanup continued of the spill, which left a 20-mile long oil slick, Coast Guard officials said.

Crews set up floating booms to try and keep oil from spreading into the tributaries and creeks that flow into the Delaware, but probably won't be able to completely contain the damage, said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection.

"This is going to be an effort that's going to take weeks and months," he said.

Scores of birds soaked in sticky crude could be seen along the river's banks Sunday. Hundreds will probably perish, though some were being taken to a sanctuary in Delaware, Campbell said.

Brian Goldy, 48, often spots hundreds of Canada geese from his waterfront condominium in Essington, near the Philadelphia International Airport.

On Sunday morning, he found just five on a grassy pad by the river, all of them blackened and unable to fly. The birds, in an effort to clean themselves, were ingesting the fuel, Goldy said.

"It's terrible. It's absolutely terrible. Being a resident here and seeing the impact on the wildlife, it makes me sick," said Goldy, who said the smell in the area was overwhelming

The Coast Guard, mindful of the financial effects of the weekend closure of the industrial port, hoped to let some idled commercial vessels through on Monday, Coast Guard officials said. More than a dozen vessels, mainly carrying oil and chemicals, were parked at both ends of the port.

The spill is the worst on the Delaware River since 1995, when strong winds pushed a tanker away from a dock at the Coastal Eagle Point Refinery in West Deptford, N.J., snapping a fuel line that spilled 40,000 gallons. In 1989, a tanker ran aground near Claymont, Del., spilling 300,000 gallons of heating oil into the river.

About one million barrels of oil come through the Port of Philadelphia daily.

Tsakos hoped to unload the remaining oil from the Athos I, which had 325,000 barrels of oil aboard in seven cargo tanks, and get the product to Citgo before repairing the ship, he said.

Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Codey had initially said the port would be closed for about three days. He said that Tsakos would foot the bill for the cleanup.

Campbell said the company has been cooperative, and he didn't anticipate that the company would face any fines. He said the river restoration would likely cost millions of dollars.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can be reached at (215) 365-1558. Damage claims are being handled by Hudson Marine Management Services at (856) 486-0800.

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