FISHING BOAT STILL GROUNDED NEAR PEARL AND HERMES ATOLL, BUT FUEL REMOVED

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HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (June 12, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---About 7,500 gallons of diesel oil has been removed from a fishing vessel grounded near Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Hawaiian Islands chain.

The 85-foot boat, Swordsman I, has been grounded on the southeast side of the atoll since last week Monday. The five crewmen on board have since been rescued.

Coast Guard spokesman Eric Hedaa said the fishing boat remains stranded on the reef. It’s not known at this time what will happen to the vessel.

Crews from the Marine Safety Office in Honolulu, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service aboard the S.S. Midway, a workboat from Midway Island, used pumps and long hoses to remove the oil from the fishing vessel last week Friday to prevent any more fluid from leaking into the ocean.

Although a heavy sheen was reported in the water, it is not known how much fuel leaked from the vessel.

Wildlife officials are concerned about the damage the spill may cause to wildlife on the atoll, a federally protected marine conservation area. The atoll is a major breeding ground for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtle.

Marine Safety Office Honolulu estimates that 10 to 15 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of lube oil remain aboard the ship in the engine compartment, which has been inaccessible due to flooding.

"We made sure the lives were saved, and now we’re doing our best to protect the environment by getting the oil off," said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Spaulding, the assistant chief of port operations at MSO Honolulu.

"A small amount of diesel was released but it dissipated in the heavy surf," he said.

High surf of about six- to eight-foot swells hampered crews from removing the fuel from the boat earlier last week. Milder weather conditions -- eight to 10 mph winds and two-to-three-foot swells -- allowed the crew Friday to transfer the oil from the vessel.

Three U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists on the atoll have been looking for but have not reported any impact on wildlife from the fuel spill.

The state said this latest incident marks the third time in two years a fishing boat ran aground on a reef in the Hawaiian Islands chain.

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