Oil spill starts taking toll on marine environment

MIKUNI, Fukui Pref.– Oil from a wrecked Russian tanker continued Jan. 8 to wash ashore on the Sea of Japan coast, dealing a serious blow to the local environment and economy.Stormy weather continued to hamper cleanup efforts in the spill, which could turn out to be the worst in the nation’s history. The spill has damaged edible seaweed that is in season around the coastline here and might affect sea urchins, abalone and “wakame” seaweed, which are harvested nearby in spring and summer, local fishermen said.The Fukui Prefectural Government had divers on Jan. 8 examine the bow of the tanker, which ran aground the day before near the shore of this coastal town, and is considering extracting the oil that is believed to remain in the hull of the vessel. The Maritime Safety Agency plans to refloat the 50-meter-long bow section and tow it further offshore.The local government used a helicopter Jan. 8 to sprinkle about 300 liters of oil neutralizers over the slick and the MSA has also began to spray chemicals from helicopters in an attempt to dissipate the spill. On shore, some 360 local people began removing oil that has been washed up. Some used hoses to vacuum up the oil at four coastal locations, while about 100 members of the local fishermen’s cooperative union used buckets and scoops.With the oil continuing to spread, the tanker leak could turn into the nation’s second worst oil disaster. The 13,157-ton Nakhodka, which was carrying heavy fuel oil from China to Russia, broke up Jan. 2 in heavy seas. The bow section is estimated to have been carrying about 17,600 barrels of oil and more is expected to wash ashore over a large part of the coastal region, eventually reaching the Noto Peninsula in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture.In 1974, up to 59,800 barrels of oil leaked from an offshore refinery in the Inland Sea, causing 16.8 billion yen worth of damage to local fishing cooperatives. Now, with the fishing industry apparently wiped out for the year, the Mikuni Municipal Government has turned its attention toward tourism and asked the media to “avoid sensational reporting” of the spill.The prefectural government and the prefectural federation of fisheries cooperatives have begun assessing damage to the fishing industry from the oil spill and are studying the issue of compensation from the Russian side. A Russian Embassy spokesman in Tokyo declined to comment on the accident or what measures the country can take, saying the mission has not received any information from Moscow.After the Nakhodka broke up, 31 of its 32 crew members were found adrift in lifeboats near the vessel and rescued. The ship’s skipper remains missing.