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The BBC's Helen Callaghan
"They are particularly worried about the giant tortoises"
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Dr Robert Benstead-Smith, Charles Darwin Centre
"So far very little wildlife has been affected"
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The BBC's James Reynolds reports
"The Ecuadorian Government has asked the US Coast Guard to send in special equipment"
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Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 23:33 GMT
US help for Galapagos spill
Grounded barge Jessica
The Jessica began leaking oil on Friday
A team from the US Coast Guard is heading for the Galapagos Islands to help contain an oil spill threatening rare wildlife.

The US team will try to drain oil from the tanker Jessica, which ran aground 800 metres (2,600 feet) off shore on Tuesday. The vessel was transporting almost 250,000 gallons of oil.

Bad weather is forecast for Sunday and Monday, which could make the clean-up effort more difficult and disperse oil more rapidly.

The Ecuadorian environment minister, Rodolfo Rendon, said the current was pushing the spilt oil towards a colony of sea lions, and warned that the spill could turn into a major environmental disaster.

Containment efforts

Floating barricades have been set up around the tanker, but officials said the slick appeared to be widening despite their efforts.

At least 76,000 litres (20,000 gallons) of fuel have so far been recovered from the bay, but the Ecuadorian authorities said they could not deal with the problem alone.

Ten members of the US Coast Guard's pollution response team are en route to the Galapagos, 1,000km (650 miles) off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.

The US team is bringing specialised equipment, including high-capacity pumps and inflatable oil containment barges.

Unique species

Officials are particularly concerned for the unique plant and animal species that live on the islands.

Galapagos tortoise
Concern about unique animal species
In a statement, Galapagos National Park Director Eliecer Cruz said the situation was "getting worse because of strong waves forecast" to hit the archipelago.

Mr Cruz said the oil was threatening colonies of sea lions, marine iguanas, birds such as blue-footed boobies and sea life.

The Galapagos Islands are Ecuador's main tourist attraction, famous for their giant tortoises and uniquely evolved birds and plants.

They provided material for some of Charles Darwin's key research in formulating his theory of evolution.

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06 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
The incredible shrinking iguana
24 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Following in Darwin's footsteps
08 Oct 98 | Americas
Airlifting the giant tortoise
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