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Another Oil Spill In Prince William Sound

December 25, 2009

A tugboat collided with the same reef that the Exxon Valdez tanker hit 20 years ago, resulting in spilled fuel in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and a three-mile-long slick, according to the U.S. Coast Guard on Friday.

An unknown amount of diesel was leaked from the Pathfinder tug after it ran aground Wednesday on Bligh Reef. The owners of the boat were pumping the remaining diesel from the original 33,500 gallons in its tanks, reported AFP.

The Coast Guard said on its website that flyovers by a C-130 cargo plane and helicopters found “a light grey or silver diesel sheen spanning an area approximately three miles long and 30 yards wide approximately one mile east of Glacier Island.”

The boat had been probing shipping lanes for ice when it hit the same rock that the Exxon Valdez hit on March 24, 1989, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sea, marking the most disastrous oil spill in U.S. history.

The recent accident was not nearly on the same scale as the Exxon Valdez accident, and the Coast Guard said the slip was “rapidly dissipating” and would not likely reach the shoreline of Glacier Island for a long while.

Experts surrounded the boat with containment booms to keep the slick from spreading, while a recovery vessel used oil skimmers to recover as much spilled oil as possible.

“There’s no recoverable sheen,” Jim Butler, a spokesman for Crowley Maritime Service which owns the tug, told the Anchorage Daily News (ADN).

After the fuel is taken out, officials will be able to see about how much was spilled into the sound, the Coast Guard said.

Butler said they are uncertain how the tug ran aground, ADN reported, but a navigational error at such a familiar place was baffling.

“Like most Alaskans, we at the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council are baffled as to how the Pathfinder managed to hit perhaps the most famous navigational hazard in the world, Bligh Reef, in conditions of relatively mild weather,” council president Steve Lewis wrote in a blog posting.

He said the accident raises questions “about how well the painful lessons of the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 have been learned by today’s mariners.”

The Coast Guard said tests administered to the Pathfinder crew late Wednesday ruled out the use of alcohol, ADN reported.

The captain of the Exxon Valdez, Joe Hazelwood, had been drinking alcohol aboard the tanker before it wrecked in 1989.

Image Caption: The tug Pathfinder anchors south of Busby Island in Prince William Sound after the tug went aground on Bligh Reef Wednesday evening creating a light sheen spanning an area approximately three miles long and 30 yards wide about one mile east of Glacier Island Dec. 24, 2009. The Valdez Star, an oil recovery vessel, continues to use oil skimmers to recover as much diesel as possible. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charly Hengen.

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