Cosco Busan Oil Spill Update

On Friday, November 30, the California Senate held a joint hearing between the Senate Natural Resources and Water and the Governmental Organization Subcommittees on the Cosco Busan oil spill. The hearing, the subject of which was "Response and Prevention: San Francisco Bay Oil Spill," was chaired by Senators Steinberg and Florez and apparently criticized California's Department of Fish and Game's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) for its initial response. However, when MarEx went online, no official statement on the proceedings had yet been released.

Since Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed a State of Emergency in the San Francisco Bay Area on November 9, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has been coordinating numerous local, state, and federal organizations in the Cosco Busan oil spill response effort. The USCG is managing such organizations as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Interior, and California’s Fish and Game Office of Oil and Spill Prevention and Response through the Cosco Busan Unified Command. The response effort is also greatly dependent on volunteers from the general public, who have attended Unified Command-sponsored training, with regard to beach cleanup actions.

On November 7, the container ship Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge span "D" at approximately 8:30 a.m. in heavy fog. According to a USCG press release, "the vessel was out bound towards Anchorage 9 with a pilot onboard at the time . . ." "The allision," as stated by USCG Commandant ADM Thad Allen, who visited the area the weekend following the accident, "resulted in a 200 foot long tear to the port side of the ship that ripped open several fuel tanks." An estimated 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel leaked from the vessel before it was moved to Anchorage 9 on its own power, soon after the incident -- leaking oil as it went. Per the Commandant, "Members of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco responded to initial reports to assess the damage and begin coordinating cleanup operations. Coast Guard pollution investigators were on scene within an hour of initial notification." The Unified Command was also established.

Last week's hearing was not the first hearing held to discuss the oil spill response effort to the November 7 spill. The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure also held a hearing on the oil spill on Monday, November 19. According to the Summary of the Subject Matter, the hearing was “called to consider both the circumstances leading to the allision of the M/V COSCO BUSAN with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (“Bay Bridge”) on Wednesday, November 7, 2007, and the response of the Coast Guard and other federal agencies to the subsequent spill of approximately 58,000 gallons of fuel oil into the waters of San Francisco Bay.”

ADM Craig E. Bone, 11th District Commander, spoke before the Subcommittee: “The Coast Guard’s preliminary investigation has found no evidence of vessel mechanical propulsion system or steering failures as causal factors in the casualty, and indicates that causal and contributing factors will include human error. The Coast Guard continues to support the NTSB, which is conducting an independent marine safety investigation of the incident. The Coast Guard also continues to conduct its own parallel marine safety investigation of this casualty. The Coast Guard is also fully supporting the Department of Justice.” His entire statement can be read here.

Then, on Tuesday, November 20, the U.S. District Court issued an order "arresting" the Cosco Busan to keep it from leaving the area. This order was in response to a class action lawsuit filed by Audet & Partners, LLP, a law firm who represents the "fisherman, boat operators, and other victims of the oil spill." The most current information about the case, entitled Chelsea, LLC, on behalf of the Class v. Regal Stone, Ltd., et al., Civil Action No. 07-5800 (Northern District of California), can be found at www.audetlaw.com.

Furthermore, on Thursday, November 29, the Coast Guard announced that Captain William Uberti, who originally headed the spill response effort, is retiring after a 29-year military career. Uberti was replaced by Captain Paul Gugg as the leader of the response soon after the incident, but he remained the region's sector commander.

Regardless of the different legal actions taken during the incident, the cleanup continues. As of a December 5 Unified Command press release, the latest results of the effort are listed below:

  • Total personnel employed: 465

  • Total gallons discharged: Approximately 58,000

  • Total birds captured: 1,063

  • Total birds cleaned: 783

  • Total birds released: 343

  • Total birds died in facility: 612

  • Total birds dead on arrival: 1,756

  • Remaining feet of boom laid out: 1,200

  • Total cubic yards of oily solid recovered: 160 (for day)

  • Total cubic yards of oily solid recovered: 4,018 (cumulative)

  • Additional "hot shot" teams will be on standby to respond to oil sightings.

Additionally, the fishing suspension placed on the area was lifted on November 29, except for certain species and locations as delineated in the Department of Fish and Game press release here. The latest news on the spill can be found at the Cosco Busan Unified Command Web site here.

**Photo: SAN FRANCISCO -- Jason Flesher, a member of the Marin County Sheriffs Office search and rescue team, secures a rope assisting the multi-agency clean up team repelling down the side of a cove north of Rodeo Beach, Nov. 27, 2007. The team was cleaning up approximately 400 pounds of oil that had been placed into garbage bags at the bottom of the cliff. The oil was a result of the Cosco Busan, a 900-foot container ship that hit the San Francisco Bay Bridge Nov. 7, 2007, spilling 58,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Third Class Melissa Hauck)