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Copper in Sunken Ship Causes Concern : Studies of Toxic Ore in Wreckage Off Point Conception Cited

November 19, 1987|United Press International

SANTA BARBARA — Researchers have found "reason for concern" over the toxic copper ore that has spilled from a sunken freighter near fishing grounds, authorities said Wednesday.

Since Monday, a research team from the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been taking sonar images of the 550-foot Pac Baroness, which collided with another ship Sept. 21 and sank in several hundred feet of water about 15 miles off Point Conception, university spokesman David Salisbury said.

The high-resolution sonar, similar to that used in the Atlantic to locate the wreck of the Titanic, found that the freighter's hull had split, dumping some of its 23,000 tons of copper ore on the ocean floor, Salisbury said.

"The preliminary indications are that there is reason for concern," Salisbury said, explaining that copper "is highly toxic in a marine environment" to both plants and sea life.

Coast Guard officials had announced shortly after the sinking that the copper ore would pose no "major problems" and was only "a very localized threat."

Some preliminary results from the study of the wreck are to be announced at the campus today, Salisbury said. However, tests of water and animal samples from the vicinity of the wreck will not be completed for several weeks.

The wreck is located near "major bottom fisheries" that are rich in Dover sole and rock cod, Salisbury said.

The Pac Baroness had taken on a load of fuel in Long Beach before it collided with the 600-foot Atlantic Wing, carrying 3,451 Honda cars, in the Pacific north of the Santa Barbara Channel. The Atlantic Wing continued its trip, but the ore-laden freighter sank 11 hours later.

An oil slick from the Pac Baroness threatened the coastline and a marine sanctuary for several days before dissipating in rough seas.

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