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Cargo ship leaking oil in Norway's only marine reserve

by Staff Writers
Oslo (AFP) Feb 18, 2011
Norwegian authorities struggled Friday to contain an oil spill after an Icelandic cargo ship holding hundreds of tonnes of fuel ran aground inside Norway's only marine natural reserve.

The oil slick had by Friday afternoon reached the fragile shoreline in at least two places in the Ytre Hvaler marine park, which is home to a wide variety of sea birds, marine life and large cold-water coral reefs, the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) said in a statement.

Late Friday afternoon, the NCA said however the spill was not as serious as first feared.

The Godafoss, which contained a total of 800 tonnes of fuel, struck a rock on a well-indicated reef late Thursday near the mouth of the Oslo Fjord shortly after leaving port in the southeastern town of Fredrikstad for Helsingborg in southern Sweden.

A yet undetermined quantity of fuel leaked out from the middle of tanks lining both sides of the ship, each holding 250 tonnes.

"It appears that the leak has been halted," NCA operation chief Johan Marius Ly told reporters.

Norwegian and Swedish authorities rushed out anti-pollution vessels, tugboats and two surveillance planes and helicopters to assess the situation.

Floating barriers were also set up around the ship to limit the damage.

Owned by Icelandic shipping firm Eimskip, the Godafoss was transporting 439 containers, including one filled with 12 tonnes of dynamite.

"As long as it has been loaded correctly and there is no fire, there is no risk of an explosion," Ly insisted.

The weather conditions were considered relatively favourable to a clean-up, with a calm sea and moderate winds.

Nevertheless, environmental groups stressed a lot was at stake.

According to the WWF, more than 6,000 marine species live in the area, including 220 on Norwegian and Swedish lists of endangered species.

"WWF is asking the authorities to ban all maritime traffic in the most vulnerable zones, that oil be banned as fuel and that this influences decisions concerning oil production in fragile regions," the group said in a statement.

The Ytre Hvaler park, which was created in June 2009 and stretches across 354 square kilometres (137 square miles), is Norway's only marine natural reserve and is located not far from the Swedish Kosterhavet marine national park.

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