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News Brief: Oil Fouls Channel Between Water and Hassel Islands

Oct. 17, 2005 — A ship illegally dumping fuel and storm swells churning up decades old tar balls on the ocean floor have coated the busy shipping lane south of St. Thomas with oil, officials said Monday.
The oil slick, first reported Thursday, was in the Gregory East Channel, a primary shipping lane for cargo vessels, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. j.g. Eric Willis.
The Coast Guard isn't sure who dumped the oil but has kept samples on file – like a fingerprint – to check against petroleum dumped by any future offenders, Willis said.
It was also unclear how much fuel was spilled, he said.
The sticky tar balls could have been resting under the sea for decades, Willis said, and were likely stirred up by turbulent seas from the recent storms that brought weeks of rain to the islands.
Environmental Protection Agency officials notified WAPA's desalinization plant of the spill so drinking water made from seawater at the plant was not contaminated, said Jamal Nielsen, a Department of Planning and Natural Resources spokesman.
They also notified Crown Bay Marina so the boats there could be protected, he said.
Clean-up teams removed about 30 gallons of diesel that had washed ashore in nearby Hassel Island, Nielsen said.
No beaches were threatened by the spill, he said.
The oil slick was visible in Charlotte Amalie harbor, Nielsen said, but had dissipated by Saturday.
International law requires ships to filter petroleum out of any bilge water jettisoned into the sea.

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