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Antarctic cruise ship spill small, but left impact

M/S Nordkapp, M/S Nordnorge
The M/S Nordkapp, left, and M/S Nordnorge sit anchored near Deception Island Wednesday as a British Royal Navy helicopter from the HMS Endurance helps with evacuating passengers from the Nordkapp, which ran aground Tuesday. Passengers were brought to the Nordnorge on small boats usually used for sightseeing.British Ministry of Defense via AP
/ Source: news services

A Norwegian cruise ship that ran aground on a remote Antarctic island leaked between 130-200 gallons of diesel oil but it is not known if the spill will have any effect on the fragile environment, the Norwegian Polar Institute said Friday.

The 404-foot M/S Nordkapp ran aground Tuesday at Deception Island, which is part of the Antarctic archipelago's South Shetland Islands. It pulled off the rocks under its own power, but the 294 passengers were transferred to a sister ship.

To reduce the risk of a major oil spill, the crew transferred diesel oil from fuel tanks that were damaged in the incident to other tanks. It was during that operation that some of the oil leaked into the water, the Polar Institute said, citing reports from the cruise operator Norwegian Coastal Voyage.

"A spill of such limited extent would normally not pose a threat to the environment," the institute said in a statement. "But the spill happened at Deception Island which has a special ecosystem because of its volcanic origin."

An international treaty designates Antarctica a nature reserve and calls on member countries to quickly tackle environmental emergencies and establish liability for environmental damage.

Norwegian Coastal Voyage said it would track the situation together with the cruise operator and scientists from Argentina and Spain.

It said a Spanish research station on Deception Island had issued an alert about the oil spill. The company said the oil was a light blend that should break up easily in sea water.

The Nordkapp was anchored at a Chilean scientific station in Maxwell Bay, off King George's Island, where British divers were examining damage to the hull.

Meanwhile, the ship to which the passengers were transferred, the M/S Nordnorge, was delayed by strong winds and waves of up to 65 feet on its way to Ushuaia, Argentina, said Stein Lillebo, a spokesman for Norwegian Coastal Voyage. There was no danger to the passengers and the ship was expected to reach Ushuaia late Friday, he said.