CAPE TOWN — A race to rescue up to 20,000 endangered penguins from an oil spill in an isolated south Atlantic British island group was underway Thursday after a cargo ship ran aground.
Oil-slicked Rockhopper penguins were being collected and taken off three Tristan da Cunha islands to the main island to be stored in a shed for treatment, cleaning and eventual release.
"Five hundred Rockhoppers were brought ashore on Tristan this morning," Tristin da Cunha administrator Sean Burns said in an online statement.
But specialist cleaning fluid was in short supply and hinged on a second ship being chartered from Cape Town, a journey of several days over 2,800 kilometres (1,740 miles), after a salvage vessel arrived on Monday.
"A crucial next step is to confirm a second vessel to depart from Cape Town in the next few days with all the necessary equipment and supplies to clean up the birds, keep them healthy and hopefully return them to the ocean," said Burns.
"It will be a race against time," he added.
Tristan da Cunha, a volcanically active island in the South Atlantic Ocean, is often said to be "the world's most remote inhabited location". (I suppose they mean other than polar expedition stations.)
In addition to the main island, the Tristan da Cunha family of islands also includes the uninhabited Nightingale Islands (where the oil spill caused by the bulk freighter Oliva occurred), Gough Island, and Inaccessible Island.