November 8, 2007

Special Edition: Massive Oil Spill on San Francisco Bay

The Cosco Busan had a 160-ft gash torn into her side yesterday morning when she hit the Bay Bridge.

USCG
©2007 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Yesterday at 8:30 in the morning, the 810-ft container ship Cosco Busan was leaving Oakland for Pusan, South Korea in dense fog when it sideswiped the Bay Bridge, tearing an enormous 160-ft-long gash in its side. Initially, the owners of the ship reported that only 140 gallons of bunker fuel had spilled, a claim the Coast Guard officially supported until 10 p.m. last night. It was clear early on, though, that significantly more fuel had escaped the ship’s holds, causing the Coast Guard and clean-up agencies to scramble to contain what’s now estimated to be 58,000 gallons of oil.

The spill quickly spread throughout the Bay on the ebb tide and by 3 p.m. had reached Fort Point just inside the Golden Gate Bridge. Currently, agencies are focusing on three major slicks in the Bay — one west of Treasure Island, one north of the Bay Bridge and one south of Angel Island. Sheens have been spotted all over the Bay, including Bayfront Park all the way up Richardson Bay in Mill Valley. Several Bay Area destinations have been closed due to the spill: Baker Beach, China Beach, Crissy Field, Fort Point, Alcatraz, and Muir Beach, Black Sands Beach, East Beach, Rodeo Beach and Kirby Cove in the Marin Headlands. Though it hasn’t been closed, swimmers are advised against diving into Aquatic Park as oil blobs have been spotted there. The latest update reports Point Bonita as contaminated as well. Eight oil skimming vessels — five inside the Gate, three outside — are working to suck up as much oil as possible and have recovered about 8,000 gallons of the stuff but it may be a losing battle: "Bunker fuel oil tends to be rather heavy," reports Wil Bruhns of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, "and it doesn’t float as well as other oils. It’s hard to contain."

Southwest winds and a minus tide are expected to push the oil up onto the beaches and into Drakes Bay today. A giant oil-absorbing boom will be set up to deflect as much oil as possible onto a stretch of beach that will be more easily cleaned. Unfortunately, the mouth of Drakes Bay is too wide to fully prevent any oil from entering.

Multiple reports of oiled waterfowl have been cited and several agencies are frantically trying to save as many as possible. If you spot oil covered birds, you’re asked to call the Oiled Wildlife Reporting Hotline at (877) 823-6926. Though volunteers will undoubtedly be needed to help with clean-up soon, officials are asking everyone to stay away from the beaches and shores for the next couple days. It goes without saying that it would be wise to stay off the water during the clean up process, which will likely last at least through the weekend.

The ship never came in contact with the concrete base but did destroy much of the base’s fender system.

USCG
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The cause of the collision is still under investigation — even in dense fog, the Bay Bridge can be seen clearly on any radar and, unless there’s something we don’t know, it would seem experienced bar pilot John Cota he should have easily been able to deal with the 2.7-knot flood current. Cota and the ship’s navigational crew were given drug and alcohol tests but the results aren’t yet available. We’ll have more on the spill in tomorrow’s ‘Lectronic but for now apologize for the delay in reporting this important story.

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