Oil slicks from a wrecked Russian tanker in the Sea of Japan started washing ashore Jan. 7 on the northern Honshu coast and cleanup crews were powerless to stop a possible environmental disaster because of stormy weather.A Maritime Safety Agency spokesman said a 10-km wide slick broke up overnight into many smaller patches in rough seas. The first of the oil reached a beach at Mikuni, Fukui Prefecture, at midmorning Jan. 7.The oil slicks threaten a stretch of the picturesque, rocky Noto Peninsula coastline, which is famed for shrimp, crabs and women divers known as “ama.” MSA officials have alerted producers of shellfish, seaweed and other sea products along the coast about extensive environmental damage from the slicks. “A 300-meter stretch of coast at Oshima (an island about 20 km off Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture) has been covered with a layer of oil,” Mikuni Municipal Government official Kazuya Tada said. The affected area was rich in wildlife that would be badly affected by the slick, he said.Mikuni officials reported early Jan. 7 that they spotted slicks stretching about 300 meters off Cape Anto in the town, about 15 km from the Ishikawa Prefecture border. “Another group of slicks has been spotted 5.4 km from Anto, and they are heading straight for the coast,” an MSA spokesman said.The MSA spokesman said other slicks are heading for parts of the Noto Peninsula. “The area affected is very rocky and has abundant marine life, including seaweed and shellfish. The oil will probably have a very bad effect on the local environment,” he said. “All we can do is patrol the beaches and count the slicks coming in,” Tada said. “It’s impossible to mount cleanup operations because of continuing stormy weather,” he added.

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