Passenger Ship Runs Aground Off Puerto Rico
MONA ISLAND, Puerto Rico (AP) _ The U.S. Coast Guard said a passenger ferry carrying 218 passengers and crew grounded on reefs off Puerto Rico’s west coast early Friday, rupturing its fuel storage tank and threatening a ″potential major oil spill.″
The 375-foot A. Regina ran hard aground on reefs at about 1 a.m. about 500 yards off this 14,000-acre, uninhabited island between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, for which the ship was headed. No one was injured.
Passengers said Friday that they and the crew spent the night aboard the grounded vessel, and were evacuated to Mona Island in the A. Regina’s lifeboats after dawn. The Pensamiento, a fishing boat in the area, maintained radio contact with the Coast Guard’s Borinquen Air Station during the night.
The Coast Guard said the jagged coral reef ruptured the ferry’s fuel storage tank on impact, and a ″potential major oil spill″ was feared. Lt. Mike Agosta of the Borinquen base said the Oil Pollution Strike Team from Mobile, Ala., had been dispatched to help contain the diesel fuel spill.
″Oil is present in the water and is leaking from a 130,000-gallon diesel fuel storage tank,″ Agosta said.
Passenger Hector Maldonado, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, said he was asleep in his cabin when the ferry ran aground.
″They were broadcasting something over the loudspeaker. Most people were either sleeping or dancing in the discoteque. When I came out on the deck, I could see we were stuck, but I could see the shore was nearby so I wasn’t worried,″ Maldonado said.
The A. Regina was listing sharply Friday morning, partly surrounded by a black diesel fuel slick.
The rusting hulk of a Dominican freighter jutted from a nearby reef where it stuck four years ago.
The agent for the ship, based in the Dominican Republic, said the company was arranging for charter aircraft to take the stranded passengers and crewmen from Mona to the Mani Airport in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
A U.S. Navy vessel with a helicopter and landing pad was about a mile offshore at noon, apparently getting ready to help in evacuation.
The passengers said they had felt no panic because the captain had informed them from the start that they were in no danger.
Some sunbathed on the narrow strip of white sand while others gathered in the shade of clumps of small palm trees.
A few passengers were drenched in oil, apparently from the diesel in the water they waded through when they left their liferafts.
The scrub-covered desert island is populated only by wild goats and pigs, and iguana lizards up to six feet long. The Puerto Rico Natural Resources Department maintains a wildlife preserve and ranger station here, but there are no telephone communications. The only radio contact with Puerto Rico is at a lighthouse near where the vessel went aground.