U.S. Navy to pay for Yap oil cleanup

by Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): February 25, 2002 - The Navy will foot the US$ 5 million bill to pump the remaining oil off a World War II ship that was sunk by a Japanese kaiten (manned suicide torpedo) in vital Yap State fishing waters.

The 553-foot USS Mississinewa has been leaking oil into a lagoon heavily fished by the almost 700 residents of the mostly undeveloped Ulithi Atoll.

"We anticipate the oil removal process will begin in the next three months, weather permitting," said Lt. Monica Richardson, a local Navy spokeswoman.

Richardson added the Navy could recoup about $1 million of the cost by recycling the oil on board the ship.

The first leak occurred when a storm jarred the wreck on Aug. 6. A fishing ban was issued until that leak was sealed by divers contracted by the Navy.

Environmentalists reported the impact from that leak was minimal.

The second leak was noticed Dec. 23 as it spread about four miles out from that island chain, according to Yap officials.

After both leaks, Yap officials asked the United States to step in and pump the oil off the vessel, saying it was an environmental time bomb and the state government did not have the funds to do the work. Yap officials could not be reached for comment this week.

Richardson said the potential impact of an oil release on the people of Ulithi was a factor in the decision to fund the oil removal project.

Navy master diver Bob Barker, who was part of the team that patched the second leak this month, said the island is "untouched by the outside world," a place where "the people are still living they way they did a hundred years ago."

"It is extremely beautiful," Barker said.

Barker said the USS Mississinewa is in about 130 feet of water. The front 50 feet of the vessel is torn off and the remainder of the ship rests upside down.

The team was able to patch two leaking areas and determine that a large portion of the oil cargo is still on board. The torpedo that sank the ship didn't hit its main tanks, he said.

"A lot of areas still had oil," Barker said.