Exxon made final preparations Wednesday to float its still-leaking oil tanker, and company officials turned to the Far East in search of a dry dock willing to accept the crippled leviathan.

Claims, meanwhile, against Exxon for damages escalated into the millions as oil spread over an area approaching the size of Delaware. U.S. Navy oil skimmers were pressed into service, and Exxon accepted an offer of help from the Soviets.Exxon said it has changed its policy because of the spill and now requires crews to be aboard ship, where drinking is prohibited, four hours before sailing.

Oil as thick as mayonnaise has soiled 800 miles of beach, and thousands of animals are known dead, including at least 30 sea otters.

"Dozens of otters are dying before rescuers can get to them," said fish and game spokesman Jon Lyman.

The dead otters included a year-old pup, one of five that had been sent to San Diego's Sea World for treatment.

While the toll from the nation's worst oil spill mounted, its impact on the flow of Alaskan crude was abating.

The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. said it would resume a normal daily flow of 2.1 million barrels of oil through the trans-Alaska pipeline today. The flow had been cut by 60 percent because of restrictions on tanker traffic in Valdez harbor, but those restrictions have eased.

In the longer turn, though, the spill could slow petroleum exploration in environmentally sensitive areas at least temporarily, Environmental Protection Administrator William Reilly told Congress.

On Tuesday, crews finished transferring about 42 million gallons of crude from the crippled tanker to other ships in preparation for the refloating. The $125 million vessel, one of Exxon's newest, has been sitting on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound since running aground March 24 and spilling more than 10 million gallons of crude.

The company said crews would attempt to pump air into the hold and refloat the ship at high tide late today. Officials plan to tow the vessel 30 miles to an already fouled bay off Naked Island for temporary repairs.