Oil from the Exxon Valdez threatened a national park and oozed through barriers protecting fisheries Friday as President Bush ordered U.S. armed forces to assist in the cleanup of Alaska's Prince William Sound.
With the nation's worst crude oil spill in its third week, Exxon made a second public apology and the tanker's captain made bail on charges that he was drunk when his ship went aground.The Good Friday spill of 10.1 million gallons has killed thousands of seabirds and otters in the snowy landscape on the central Alaskan coast. Fishermen have lost millions of dollars.
And despite cleanup efforts by industry, government and private citizens, the spill has spread to more than 2,600 square miles.
"It's just immense," Jim Hayden, who is coordinating the cleanup for the state, said Thursday. "I don't think a spill of this size is controllable."
Bush on Friday directed Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to "make available U.S. military forces, personnel and equipment to assist in the cleanup." The president also directed Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner to oversee the cleanup effort, but he said, "We are not federalizing this operation."
Late Thursday the oily sheen was reported lapping at the rocks on islands near Kenai Fjords National Park, a remote refuge 100 miles southwest of Valdez. Ron Smith, a spokesman for a federal-state cleanup effort, said new booms were being put up to protect the area of inlets and fjords.
Closer to the spill site, local fishermen continued their fight to save the salmon fishery at three-mile-long Sawmill Bay, using fishing nets to corral the oil and "super sucker" vacuum trucks to remove it and protect millions of salmon fry.
Rand Little, product manager for the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., said oil breached one of three booms protecting the young salmon. Fishermen were able to repair the breach before damage was done.
But fishermen worried about high tides this weekend that could lift the oil over the booms and complained that they couldn't empty their oil-filled barges because of a lack of pumps.
Exxon Chairman L.G. Rawl issued a second apology for the spill, caused when the tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef outside the normal shipping channel, but said the company's response to the accident was "immediate and thorough."
On the East Coast, the captain of the tanker that spread the oily disaster was free after his bail was reduced to $25,000 from $1 million.
Bodies of birds and otters are sinking below the surface and washing out to sea, fish and game department spokeswoman Sheila Nickerson said. One survey vessel counted 200 dead birds along one shore, she said.