MORE OIL SEEPS FROM SUNKEN SHIP IN YAP STATE, FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA

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By Brenda Sommer

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (December 24, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---More oil is leaking from a World War II-era shipwreck in Yap State, and officials fear the latest threat to the region's ecosystem.

The State of Yap governor's office said in a press release yesterday that a private plane spotted an oil sheen several miles long off Ulithi Atoll, and photos confirmed the sighting.

Oil was released Aug. 6 from the USS Mississinewa, a 553-foot naval vessel sunk in the lagoon in 1944 by a one-man Japanese suicide submarine. That leak began after a storm shifted the ship's position, officials believe.

"Unlike the first leak in August, this leak is occurring in the middle of the typhoon season and pointing potentially to a disaster of astronomical proportions," Yap Gov. Vincent Figir wrote in a letter to Federated States of Micronesia President Leo Falcam.

The earlier spill caused a ban on fishing in the Ulithi lagoon, which is the main food source for the 700 residents of Ulithi.

Approval required

Divers contracted by the Navy in late August were able to seal the holes on the Mississinewa.

Yap officials said at that time they believed large amounts of oil remained on the ship and future storms could result in more releases.

The governor yesterday repeated Yap's request that the U.S. government drain the rest of the oil because the FSM state lacks the financial resources, personnel and equipment.

Local Navy spokeswoman Lt. Monica Richardson has said if the United States were to remove the remaining oil, Congress must first approve the expenditure and the Department of Interior or Secretary of State would have to make that request.

"If that (remaining oil) were to leak, the atoll would be finished," John Sohlith, Yap disaster management officer, said in August.

The Aug. 6 spill reached as far as Fais Island, 48 miles east of the leak site. A ban on fishing in the lagoon -- the main food source for the 700 residents of Ulithi -- was lifted in mid-September.

Yap State solicited proposals to remove the remaining oil from Mississinewa, and the solicitation period ended Dec. 20.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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