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Workers pump oil from British shipwreck as wildlife workers race to save birds

1/26/2007
A worker cleans up a bird covered with oil. 

LONDON — Wildlife workers combed a 100-mile stretch of
beach Thursday, trying to rescue birds covered in oil after
thousands of gallons leaked from a stricken cargo ship off
England's southwest coast.

Half of the more than 1,000 birds that washed ashore in the past
few days have been taken to wildlife centers around Lyme Bay, where
the British ship, the MSC Napoli, was deliberately run aground last
week after being damaged in a storm.

``These are very thin, very hungry birds,'' said Tim Thomas, a
scientist with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals. ``They've been traumatized.''

Most were guillemots — diving birds particularly vulnerable
because even a spot of oil can make their plumage lose its
waterproofing.

Once at the wildlife centers, the birds are fed water laced with
charcoal and clay to flush the oil from their stomachs, and are
sheltered for up to a month before being cleaned with detergent,
Thomas said. But 90 percent are expected to die within a year, he
said.

Contractors removed almost a third of the ship's fuel Thursday,
sucking the oil into a nearby tanker. The process was expected to
last two weeks.

That is longer than originally expected due to
difficulties in extracting oil from the Napoli's fuel tanks, two of
which remain underwater, said Tony Redding, a spokesman for Zodiac
Maritime Agencies Ltd. which operates the ship.

A new estimate from the International Tanker Owners' Pollution
Federation Ltd. put the amount of oil spilled between 17,000 and
30,000 gallons, Redding said.

The coast guard said the cleanup could last up to a year.

On Friday, a crane-equipped barge was expected to begin plucking
the remaining 2,291 containers from the deck of the ship to prepare
it to be moved to Portland, 31 miles away.

The Napoli lost 103 containers last week and 50 washed ashore to
nearby Branscombe beach. Thousands of people looted the wreckage
and make off with items ranging from BMW motorcycles to bags of
diapers.

Police called the looting despicable, but were powerless to stop
it. Under maritime law, the public can take wreckage that washes
ashore as long as it is reported to authorities within 28 days.

They can sell the property if they obtain the original owner's
permission _ but some items have already begun appearing on the
Internet for sale.