Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 at 06:01 AM
Roughly 3,000 gallons (11,355 liters) of oil have spilled into the ocean from a cargo ship accident earlier this week in the northern Bahamas, government officials said Thursday.
At a news conference, Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett said crews were able to recover a portion of the oily water off Grand Bahama island but he did not provide any specifics of how much. He said chemical dispersants that break up oil were not used out of concern for its effect on marine life.
Dorsett said the worst of the oily mess would be dispersed naturally through wave action and tides.
"It is preferable to let nature take its course ... allowing the dispersed material to flow with the natural tide into the Atlantic Ocean where there are no land-based resources at risk," he said.
Bahamian authorities have described the accident as a "tier one spill," the smallest kind.
Still, the islands' government expects to notify the United States about the spill off Grand Bahama, the northernmost island in the archipelago off the eastern coast of Florida. Grand Bahama, about 55 miles from the mainland, is the Bahamas' closest island to Florida.
"We want to let our neighbors know," Transport Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin said. "It's not because we anticipate an issue, but as a matter of duty."
After a Tuesday helicopter flight over the damaged vessel, government officials said they saw an oily sheen coming from the damaged container ship and it was apparently heading toward the Florida Straits. On a second observation flight Wednesday, Bahamian environmental official Dwyane Curtis said they did not see evidence of "any residual fuel in the area."
The damaged ship has been towed back into harbor by a local salvage company, whose owner has criticized the government for not doing a better job of cleaning up the spill in the hours after the accident became known.
The islands are investigating caused the hull breach in the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship Eugenia. The vessel is owned by Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Co.
The Bahamas National Trust, manager of the islands' national parks, said it is monitoring the situation.
"Obviously we are concerned. You worry that if you get a spill close to our shores, if it washes up and into mangroves, it will have an effect," said Neil McKinney, president of the trust.