Crude Oil Spill Shuts Waterway, Perils Wildlife, Drinking Supply

<i> From </i> Times Wire Services

More than 400,000 gallons of crude oil from a grounded tanker fouled the Delaware River on Sunday. The Coast Guard closed the waterway to navigation as crews worked to clean up the mess and keep it away from waterfowl sanctuaries and drinking water supplies.

The slick stretched 15 miles from where the 761-foot Grand Eagle ran aground Saturday night near Claymont, on the Pennsylvania border, Delaware Gov. Michael N. Castle said. Many waterfowl were coated with oil, he said.

“We’ve been told the ship had an engine problem or failure and couldn’t turn or maneuver in the river,” Castle said.


The Grand Eagle leaked about 435,000 gallons--about 10,400 barrels--of oil after running aground when it lost power around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Coast Guard Lt. Robert Mitchell said. Any spill of more than 100,000 gallons is considered major, he said.

The Panamanian-registered ship freed itself and steamed ahead to its destination, a Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook, Pa., spilling the North Sea crude oil from its damaged hull as it moved.

Castle criticized the tanker’s pilot for continuing to the refinery after the accident. The governor said that caused a five-hour delay in alerting Delaware officials to the spill.

State officials said the cities of Wilmington and New Castle use water from the river. They said booms were placed at intake areas to keep out the oil. Dominic Petrilli, operations officer for the Delaware State Office of Emergency Planning and Operations, said: “So far, we are confident about keeping oil from reaching the water intake.”

The slick threatened waterfowl and marshes in southeast Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, including the Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge, the largest on the East Coast for migrating Canada Geese.

The supertanker’s owner, International Ship Finance of Panama, pledged to pay for the cleanup.