NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. — Crews worked Saturday to clean up heavy marine fuel oil that washed ashore along 30 miles of northern Florida beaches after leaking from a disabled freighter.
Authorities said ocean currents and winds were beginning to disperse the estimated 200,000 gallons of spilled oil.
"The amount that came up in the last low tide is less than expected," Coast Guard Petty Officer Joe Dye said. "It seems to be dissipating with the help of currents and winds, the forces of Mother Nature."
More than 500 sea birds taken from beaches by rescuers had oil on their feathers, but most were in good shape, officials said.
Minimum $5,000 Fine
Authorities estimated the cleanup would require several days and cost the freighter's owners at least $100,000, including a minimum $5,000 fine.
The spill, described by officials as the worst on the Florida coast in at least a decade, extended into the Atlantic Ocean as far as four miles in some places.
The heavy Type 6 Bunker C oil came from two ruptured fuel tanks aboard the 540-foot freighter Fernpassat. The ship was carrying 2,000 Volkswagens to Jacksonville's Blount Island, a receiving point for imported vehicles, when it ran aground on an exposed jetty in high seas Thursday night.
The ship's underwriters hired Oil Recovery Co. to clean up the spill. About 30 to 40 workers were scooping up oil-soaked sand and loading it in dump trucks while the company negotiated with government officials for a dump site.
Oyster Beds Protected
Cleanup specialists placed a boom across the entrance to Fort George Inlet, just north of the St. Johns jetty, to protect fragile oyster beds.
Although officials believed most of the oil had come ashore along the stretch from Mayport to St. Augustine, oil may continue washing ashore for several more days or weeks, officials said.
The oil did not keep people off the beaches Saturday as sightseers and surfers enjoyed 80-degree temperatures, but some people were angry.
"I think it's criminal. It smells like you have your head in a gas tank," said Camilla Jones of Neptune Beach.
After the spill, Gov. Bob Martinez declared a state of emergency along the coastal areas of St. Johns and Duval counties to make them eligible for immediate state assistance.