Navy Holds Off On Removing Oil From Yap Shipwreck, Ulithi Atoll Fishermen Must Wait For End Of Storm Season

by Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): September 3, 2002 - The Navy will wait out the typhoon season before pumping oil from a World War II-era shipwreck jeopardizing vital fishing waters in a remote Yap State atoll.

Rocked by heavy storms in August of last year, the 553-foot USS Mississinewa started spewing oil into a lagoon where the 700 residents of the undeveloped Ulithi Atoll fish for subsistence.

A fishing ban was issued until that leak was sealed by Navy-contracted divers. But another storm hit the region in late December, sending a streak of oil that spread four miles out from the lagoon.

After each leak, Yap officials asked the United States to step in to pump the remaining oil from the fuel vessel, saying it was an environmental time bomb and the state government did not have the money to do the work.

Yap officials could not reached for comment for this story.

Local Navy spokeswoman Lt. Thurraya Kent said it is anticipated the oil removal will cost up to $5 million. Some money might be recouped by selling the salvaged oil, possibly as much as $1 million, she said.

Kent said an environmental assessment was completed in June to determine if the removal process would affect the lagoon's fish and coral, and the study showed removal could be done safely.

But the safest time to remove the oil is during the calm weather that comes after typhoon season, which normally winds down in late December.

"The oil removal process is scheduled for January or February 2003," Kent said.

Navy officials have said the potential impact of an oil spill on the people of Ulithi was a factor in the decision to fund the oil removal project.

According to Navy divers who plugged the leak last year, the one-man Japanese suicide submarine that sank the USS Mississinewa during the war did not hit its main oil tanks.

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