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Oil spill pollutes shoreline near Tacoma

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — State and federal agencies scrambled Friday to limit the damage from an oil spill that left deposits on 21 miles of Puget Sound shoreline.

The spill of heavy industrial oil was relatively small — an estimated 1,000 gallons — but environmental officials said its impact was magnified because whoever spilled the oil did not immediately report it.

The spill north of Tacoma was discovered early Thursday, but officials Friday were still trying to determine who caused it.

No injuries to people had been reported. There were unconfirmed reports of two oiled birds, though wintering seabirds have not yet arrived in large numbers at the ecologically sensitive area.

The worst of the mess could be gone in a few weeks through cleanup efforts, the tides and wave action, said Larry Altose, spokesman for the state Department of Ecology.

Cleanup crews were focusing on heavy oil deposits on six miles of shoreline at the south ends of Vashon and Maury islands. About 4,700 gallons of oily liquid was recovered by midday Friday, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Mark Dix said, but it was not clear how much of that was the spilled oil. Vessels larger than 65 feet — mostly container ships, barges and tugs — and facilities on land were being investigated as possible sources of the spill, Dix said. Fuel samples were being taken from land facilities and about a dozen ships in the search for a match to the spilled oil.

State penalties, among the toughest in the nation, could be as high as $100,000 per day if the polluter is identified, said Paul O'Brien, on-site coordinator for the state Department of Ecology. Coast Guard penalties begin at $1,000 a day, and federal licenses could be revoked, Dix said.