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Exxon Valdez Moves to Calmer Waters; More Tests Are Made

Times Staff Writer

The Exxon Valdez, still sporadically discharging a substance that U. S. Coast Guard and state officials believe is oil, was moved into calmer waters, and samples taken from its tanks are being tested to determine their chemical makeup, officials said Sunday.

The crippled tanker was moved to a spot about 15 miles northeast of San Clemente Island in response to turbulent seas that had peeled back a sixth steel plate from its damaged hull Saturday, Coast Guard Lt. Larry Solberg said. Another plate also might have moved Sunday, but that could not be confirmed, Solberg said.

“It’s really hard to see down there,” he said.

High swells over the weekend made it unsafe for divers to inspect the plate damage on the underside of the ship, Exxon spokeswoman Jan Cool said, adding that on Saturday, swells of 8 to 10 feet battered the ship.

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Noise Has Lessened

The tanker was towed about 30 to 40 miles to the point about 15 miles from Pirate Cove near San Clemente Island. Swells on Sunday were reported at 2 to 3 feet, Solberg said.

Since the ship reached calmer waters, about 40 miles off the coast, personnel on board have reported a significant lessening of noise from the bottom, Solberg said, adding that the ship is in no immediate danger.

The hanging plates, at least one of which is protruding about 60 feet from the bottom of the hull, must be cut off before the Valdez can clear the San Diego Bay bottom, Cool said.

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The Coast Guard and state agencies are assessing what anchorage area is most suitable for the removal, as well as the impact an oil spill could have in such an area.

Long Beach Harbor has been ruled too shallow to allow the repairs, leaving Pirate Cove on San Clemente Island the leading candidate for the removal site, authorities said. Pirate Cove has a depth of 110 feet, ample room for temporary anchorage.

The tanker, which was towed from Alaska after hitting a reef and dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Prince William Sound shoreline, was scheduled to enter San Diego Bay last Tuesday for a $25-million, nine-month repair job at National Steel & Shipbuilding Co., which built the vessel in 1986.

The vessel will not be allowed to enter state waters, which extend 3 miles offshore, until the results of a laboratory analysis are known, Solberg said.

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A Coast Guard observer on board the Valdez saw a “small burp” of the bluish substance streaming from the vessel for about 15 minutes Sunday morning, Solberg said. The substance rapidly dissipated and no further emissions were reported, Solberg said.

Meanwhile, scientists from the state Department of Fish and Game and Kinnetic Laboratories Inc., a Carlsbad firm, were collecting water samples from each of the vessel’s 16 tanks, said Reed Smith, pollution response coordinator for the Department of Fish and Game.

The gathering process should last until Tuesday, Smith said. The samples will be shipped to a private laboratory in Colorado to be analyzed for hydrocarbon content and toxicity. The analysis is expected to take four to seven days.

A public protest of the repair plans was scheduled for early today at Fiesta Island. Organizers said they expected about 500 people.

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The group planned to form a circle with a slash through the middle over the word Exxon, spelled out in black plastic letters 30 feet long.

“The problem is that (Exxon is) denying there isn’t a slick, there isn’t a problem,” said disc jockey Dan Mitchinson of KKYY-FM, sponsor of the protest.

Exxon officials have insisted that the Valdez is not leaking oil or harming the environment, and Cool said the company is committed to discussing with federal and state agencies the procedures to be followed in bringing the ship into state waters.


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