Friday, February 16, 2007

Penguin alert as whaler catches fire off Antarctic

New Zealand gave warning of a possible environmental disaster in the Antarctic today after the flagship of the Japanese whaling fleet caught fire in the sea off the world's largest penguin breeding site.

The blaze on board the Nisshin Maru, the so-called "mother ship" that travels with Japan's whale-hunting vessels, is under control, according to New Zealand's Conservation Minister, but there is still danger that some of the 1.3 million litres of oil on board will leak into the otherwise clean southern seas.

The ship is adrift around 110 miles (174km) south west of Cape Adare on the Ross Sea coast of the Antarctic: where around 250,000 pairs of penguins gather to breed each year. It is 267 miles (429km) north of the American McMurdo base, the largest in Antarctica, which is set amongst colonies of skua, emperor and adlie penguins.

"It is a serious situation ... a ship badly damaged and full of toxic oil," Chris Carter told New Zealand's National Radio after a news conference in Wellington.

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