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Argentine Ship Runs Aground in Antarctica

Times Science Writer

An Argentine ship carrying supplies and tourists has run aground two miles from a U.S. research base in Antarctica, leaking diesel fuel and posing a major environmental threat, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation.

NSF officials said the ship is in imminent danger of breaking up and releasing its 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel, as well as the gasoline and jet fuel it is carrying. “If the Argentine ship does break up, Antarctica could face a major environmental problem,” NSF Director Erich Bloch said Monday.

Most of the ship’s 316 passengers and crew, including 46 Americans, were flown to South America on Sunday by Chilean military aircraft after spending the night at the nearby Palmer Station, a U.S. installation. Only a few minor injuries to crew members, and none to passengers, were reported after the 400-foot-long Bahia Paraiso crashed onto rocks in clear weather at noon Saturday, putting a 10-foot gash in its side.

Before being flown out, the passengers were ferried to Palmer Station and a nearby Chilean base by motorized lifeboats from another cruise ship and by powerboats from the research base.

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Palmer Station, which normally houses 26 scientists and support workers, has a capacity of 40. Bahia Paraiso crew members who have stayed behind at the base to help with the salvage operation have been sleeping in a boat house and a carpentry shop, and under life rafts covered by tents. Rations have been reduced to two meals a day.

Temperatures at Palmer Station, which is 600 miles south of Cape Horn, have been in the 30s and 40s, which is normal for the austral summer.

Diesel fuel has already washed ashore near Palmer Station, according to the NSF, and is killing krill, a tiny shrimp-like crustacean that is a vital element of the Antarctic food chain. The fuel is also threatening sea gulls, giant petrels and penguins, and possibly other wildlife in the pristine surroundings, according to the NSF.

An Argentine naval vessel is en route to the area to pump the remaining oil from the Bahia Paraiso, but it is not expected to reach the ship before Thursday or Friday.

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