Leaking Tanker Still Burning

A grounded, broken cargo ship set ablaze off the Oregon coast on Thursday is still burning, and authorities are optimistic that most of the ship's fuel will burn away before it reaches shore.

The 639-foot New Carissa, a Japanese-owned freighter, was set on fire to prevent a disastrous oil spill.

"We did the right thing," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Gene Maestas. "By burning the oil we prevented it from spilling into the ocean."

Coast Guard Capt. Mike Hall added, "Every gallon that is burned means one less gallon in the environment and the coastal habitat."

The ship ran aground Feb. 4 about 150 yards offshore with nearly 400,000 gallons of diesel and tarlike bunker oil on board. It began leaking Monday as pounding waves widened cracks in its hull, sending streaks of goo over six miles of beach.

Experts made the daring decision to burn the hulk before the ship broke up and fouled Oregon's coast with the molasses-like fuel. They used powerful explosives to set it afire on Thursday.

Hours after the blaze erupted into a tremendous fireball, the ship broke into two huge pieces. Experts said this was not unexpected and saw no reason for alarm.

Flames still could be seen Friday in the stern section and the bow smoldered behind a thin curtain of black smoke.

Infrared images of the burning wreckage revealed that about two-thirds of the fuel had already burned away and no more than 10 percent of the load had spilled onto shore.

Oregon environmental officials said that even the air pollution from the burning wreckage was minimal. Mike Szerlog, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the pollution levels in the town of Coos Bay were "less than a good day in L.A."

About 350 workers in yellow slickers have fanned out on the beach with shovels and plastic bags to scrape up oil, and authorities put out the call for volunteers.

After the fire burns out, the rest of the oil will be removed, and the wreckage cut up and hauled away.