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Oil will damage coast for years, US officials say

Reuters

The effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will mean years of damage to fragile ecosystems, a US official said Monday. While progress appeared to have been made in containing and capturing the leak, it was too soon to know the reliability of the containment and the extent long-term damage, according to the Coast Guard admiral in charge of the US government's response to the disaster.

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"Dealing with the oil spill on the surface will go on for a couple of months," said admiral Thad Allen.

But, he added, "long term issues of restoring environments and habitats will be years."

At least 75 million litres of oil have spilled into the ocean since the 20 April explosion on the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig that caused the leak.

BP had captured 11,000 barrels of oil over a 24-hour period, which it hoped to increase to 20,000 barrels a day, Allen said.

Interview with Greenpeace campaigner Ben Aylisse

The slick has now spread around a 320-kilometre radius and has broken into smaller spills going in multiple directions.

Some environmentalists believe long-term damage is happening beneath the water as a result of BP's attempts to cut the oil with chemicals.

"BP have used a lot of these chemicals to disperse the spill, and what this has done has pushed a lot of the spill under water," Greenpeace campaigner Ben Aylisse told RFI.

"So there are huge plumes of oil away from prying eyes that are having a cataclysmic impact on the marine ecosystems. And this is going to take an awful long time to fix and put right."

The spill is also now contaminating coastlines and threatening rare birds and wildlife. Fishing grounds have been forced to close, blighting the livelihoods of residents.

Hundreds of oiled birds have been picked up by wildlife rescue workers in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Among them are the brown pelican, the Louisiana state symbol, which had been removed from the endangered species list last November.

BP said Monday it had spent at least 1.25 billion dollars on the spill, as it continued efforts to contain the leak.

A tube is now siphoning the leaking oil up to a containment ship on the surface. "Optimisation continues and improvement in oil colletion is expected over the next several days," BP said in a statement.

"It will be a few days before an assessment can be made as to the success of this contaiment effort."

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