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Thousands work to clean damaged Japanese coastline

shore January 14, 1997
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT)

From Correspondent May Lee

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Thousands of military crews and volunteers have been using buckets and shovels to scoop up the thick, black oil from a Russian tanker that sank off the western coast of Japan on January 2.

It's a grueling and back-breaking job, but for 12 days now, they've had no choice. Nearly 4 million liters (1 million gallons) of oil spilled into the sea, and more is slowly leaking out of the wrecked vessel.

Although the cause of the accident is still being investigated, many suspect the ship's age is a factor. It was built 26 years ago.


"Since the decline of the Soviet Union, there hasn't been the money to upkeep these ships," said Josh Newell of the environmental organization Friends of the Earth.

Ironically, two Russian oil-cleaning vessels are on their way to Japan to help in the massive cleanup. The first is expected to reach the area by Thursday -- not in time for many of the hardest-hit victims of the tragedy.


Environmentalists are desperately in need of volunteers to rescue oil-soaked birds from the blackened coastline. So far, more than half of the 150 birds recovered have been found dead.

The owner of the Russian tanker has apologized for the accident and is promising compensation. On Wednesday, the Russian ambassador to Japan will visit the area to get a first-hand look at the damage. He is also expected to extend official apologies for what is Japan's second-largest oil spill ever.


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