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Oil Spill Cleanup Efforts Wind Down as Storm Helps Out


Efforts to mop up the Orange County oil spill began to wind down Sunday as work crews turned their attention to scrubbing boulders and gathering oil-stained flotsam driven ashore by the weekend storm.

Heavy surf whipped up by the storm appeared to be helping scour oil off jetties and rock formations along the coastline, authorities said.

"There's still a bit of work to do, but we're out of that high-pressure, high-impact phase and into the more detailed work," said Chief Warrant Officer Dan Dwell, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman.

Some oil washed up in a foamy film on the Huntington Beach shoreline, but workers were finding mostly tar balls no bigger than jellybeans along broad stretches of the coast.

The American Trader--the tanker that spilled 394,000 gallons of crude oil Feb. 7 when it impaled itself on its anchor while attempting to moor off Huntington Beach--steamed out of port late Sunday and headed north to a San Francisco shipyard for further repairs.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials continued to puzzle over a mysterious oil sheen that washed ashore during the weekend, raising suspicions that there might be a new source of leakage.

Coast Guard investigators have yet to determine the origin of the new oil, which looked different than the crude that gushed from the American Trader. Officials suspected that the sheen might be from a different source because the tanker's crude had been drifting southward, while the new oil came ashore farther to the north.

The mess left by the sheen along a milelong section of Bolsa Chica State Beach was cleaned up by Sunday afternoon. Several oil samples were sent to the Coast Guard Oil Identification Laboratory in Groton, Conn., to determine whether it matched the crude spilled by the tanker.

Dwell said there is speculation that the sheen may have been a small leak from one of the oil rigs off Huntington Beach or a spill from a tanker pumping its bilges.

Huntington Beach Mayor Tom Mays flew over the remnants of the American Trader spill Sunday and said he saw only a few oily patches and scattered sections of sheen in the ocean. But he said cleanup efforts need to keep moving ahead to ensure the shoreline is returned to its original condition.

"This could become a sticky issue between the city and the companies involved with this spill," Mays said. "This is going to get down to what they think is clean, and what we think is clean."

A spokesman for British Petroleum, which owned the oil the American Trader was transporting, said the firm would stay until the job is done. "We are not going anywhere until it is all cleaned up," spokesman Tony Kozlowski said.

The second dead dolphin in two days washed ashore, refocusing concerns on the episode's impact on sea life.

John Heyning, curator of marine mammals at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, said it remains unclear what caused either dolphin to die, noting that such "strandings" are normal in Southern California waters. Tests to determine whether the spill played a part will be performed Tuesday, he said.

Most affected by the spill has been the coast's bird population. As of Sunday afternoon, the spill has been blamed for the deaths of 299 birds.

Times staff writers Dan Weikel and Ted Johnson and correspondents Tom McQueeney and David Burke contributed to this story.

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