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Diesel spills in Prince William Sound

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A milelong diesel sheen spread across Alaska's Prince William Sound on Friday where a tugboat had run aground near the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, the Coast Guard said.

Officials had hoped to remove the fuel from the tugboat's tanks early Friday before towing it back to Valdez, but diesel removal was halted after about 10 minutes when workers noticed a new sheen on the surface of the water, said Coast Guard Lt. Erin Christensen, a spokeswoman for the joint information center.

Helicopter flights measured the sheen at 50 feet wide and a mile long, Christensen said.

The 136-foot tug Pathfinder had just finished checking for dangerous ice and was heading back to port in Valdez when it hit Bligh Reef on Wednesday.

The boat is part of the Ship Escort Response Vessel System that was created after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil — the worst ever U.S. spill.

Six fishing vessels plus Coast Guard cutters and salvage vehicles worked to skim the diesel off the surface of the water as the tugboat's operator, Crowley Maritime Services, made plans to make another attempt to pump the diesel out Friday afternoon, she said.

Officials are investigating the cause of the grounding. The six crew members tested negative for alcohol use.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios stressed that the grounding was very different from the Exxon Valdez accident in which an enormous amount of black crude spilled. The tug is carrying much lighter diesel fuel that will evaporate in time, Rios said.

Diesel spills in Prince William Sound 12/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 9:05pm]
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