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OILY SLUDGE THREATENING SEA TURTLES

Loggerhead sea turtles were threatened by crude oil creeping closer to shore from the crippled supertanker Mega Borg, which spewed more goo into the Gulf of Mexico Saturday.

Divers were planning a rescue mission to pluck about five loggerhead turtles from waters near the slick's leading edge, said Edward Klima of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.Loggerhead turtles are a threatened species that can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds, he said.

He said if the turtles eat floating tar balls, mistaking them for food, they could die. No other marine life appeared to be threatened, he said.

About 4.6 million gallons of oil have spilled from the Norwegian tanker since it was rocked by an explosion June 8, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Frank Whipple said Saturday. The figure makes the Mega Borg spill the fifth-worst in U.S. history.

Coast Guard officials believe most of that oil - all but 12,000 to 40,000 gallons - evaporated or burned in the inferno following the explosion.

The 45-mile-long slick of Angolan crude oil was about 20 miles from Galveston.

Coastal authorities braced for an onslaught of oil that could reach Texas beaches as early as Sunday, but the oil might not reach shore for several days, said Sharon Christopherson of NOAA.

Where the oil slick might wash ashore was uncertain, but the latest estimate identified an area between the west end of Galveston Island and High Island as the most likely landfall.

About 1,200 volunteers were being trained on how to clean up any oil reaching shore.

Texas General Land Office representatives, meanwhile, said they were pleased with an experiment started Friday when oil-eating bacteria were dumped on a square acre of the slick.

But they said it was difficult to tell from the air if the oil had been eaten by the bacteria or dissipated some other way, adding that more microbes will likely be used later.