A 90-foot tear discovered on the bottom of a cruise ship threatened a spill of 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel Monday off Cape Cod, the Coast Guard said.
The ship ran onto rocks in heavy fog and began taking on water Sunday, but the more than 1,060 passengers and crew members were evacuated and damage was at first believed confined to small tears that spilled up to 1,500 gallons of fuel.However, divers late Sunday discovered a 2-foot-wide tear that exposed four of the Bermuda Star's fuel tanks containing 110,000 gallons of diesel, said Coast Guard spokesman Steve Aitkins.
"The potential exists for a medium to high probability of a major oil spill," the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Cleanup workers put booms around the 617-foot ship to corral the fuel and used absorbent material to soak up the spill.
Aitkins said pressure from sea water was keeping most of the diesel in its tanks but that the fuel would have to be unloaded before the vessel could be moved for repairs.
"The ship won't be moved until the hole is patched and all the fuel is taken out," Aitkins said Monday morning. "If you moved the ship now the inertia of the sea would take away the balancing effect we have, and it would suck the oil right out of the tear in the ship."
Randy Krahn, a Coast Guard petty officer in Providence, R.I., said inclement weather in the area would not affect patching the torn hull, but it would make unloading the fuel more difficult.
Earlier, Aitkins said the Coast Guard would charge Bermuda Star Cruise Line, the ship's owner, with federal pollution charges.
The captain, Hans Lewing, and other crew members were given blood and alcohol tests, which are routine after accidents. Results were expected Monday.
The vessel, on a cruise from New York to Nova Scotia, went aground about five miles off Woods Hole while passengers were having breakfast. Tugboats freed it 13 hours later. The passengers and some of the crew were ferried to shore.
Flooding through the holes in the hull was under control by midday.
Passenger Robert Lewis, Wichita Falls, Texas, said no one on board panicked. "It was kind of like we bumped into something," he said. "There was a loud grinding noise, but no one seemed to be scared."
Scot Graham, a Coast Guard marine safety officer in Providence, R.I., said the ship was three hours ahead of schedule and off-course when it ran aground.