Thursday, November 8, 2007

Spill closes S.F. beaches; oil washes up on Marin Headlands

San Francisco Chronicle

(11-08) 11:03 PST San Francisco - --
Heavy-duty bunker fuel oil from the 58,000 gallons that spilled from a container ship when it rammed the Bay Bridge has washed up on several San Francisco beaches and the Marin Headlands, officials said today.
Some 8,000 gallons of oil have been contained since Wednesday's accident, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti said this morning. Large patches are still floating in the bay. Birds coated in the oil have been rescued from some beaches.
Oil began leaking into the water after the 65,131-ton Cosco Busan, an 810-foot-long container ship, crashed into the base of a tower of the Bay Bridge's western span in heavy fog at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
It was the first time in memory that an oceangoing ship had run into the bridge, which did not suffer major damage.
Authorities shut down Baker Beach, China Beach, Crissy Field and Fort Point in San Francisco after oil washed up on them Wednesday night. Alcatraz Island and Kirby Cove on the Marin Headlands coast have also been closed because of the oil.
A Golden Gate National Recreation Area ranger, stationed at a roadblock near the Point Bonita lighthouse on the Marin Headlands, said, "This area is all full of oil. You can smell it. This whole area is closed."
Chris Godley, emergency services manager for Marin County, said slicks had appeared in the water near the North Bay shoreline.
One slick, 50 yards long and 20 yards wide, was seen off Paradise Drive in Tiburon. Another was seen in Richardson Bay near Bayfront Park in Mill Valley, Godley said.
Representative from 13 agencies met this morning at Fort Mason to discuss the next steps.
Until 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Coast Guard said only 140 gallons had spilled from the vessel. That estimate came from the ship's owners, Uberti said, and the Coast Guard realized later after checking the bay that the magnitude was far greater.
Although the agency did not announce that news until well after sundown, Uberti said the initial cleanup response was appropriate.
The ship's owners called in a private cleanup company, O'Brien's Group of Southern California, immediately after the accident, Uberti said.
Barry McFarland, incident commander with the company, said that in addition to the fouled beaches, cleanup crews are concentrating on three main sheens of oil in the bay - one west of Treasure Island, a second north of the Bay Bridge and a third south of Angel Island.
Five vessels are in the bay and three are outside the Golden Gate looking for additional oil patches, he said. The company has laid down about 18,000 feet of containment boom, and about 115 people are at work in the field scooping up the oil.
McFarland could not say how long the effort would take.
"It's too early to tell any timeline," he said. "We'll be here for quite some time."
Wildlife officials said finding birds and other animals covered in oil is a high priority.
The spill threatens to coat the birds' feathers, making it impossible for them to stay warm when they get into the chilly bay water, said Dr. Mike Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. The UC Davis program organizes the wildlife aid response for the state Department of Fish and Game. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito is also part of the network.
The most common species feeding at the Golden Gate at this time of year are western grebes and scoters.
"The birds' first response is to get out of the water (during a spill)," Ziccardi said. "They have a high metabolism and need to eat frequently. Because they're out of the water, they can't eat. They can become severely debilitated and can die unless brought into rehabilitation."
At the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, "we get them warm, we get them rehydrated and we get the oil off of them. The more quickly we can respond, the better it will be," Ziccardi said.
Residents who spot birds covered with oil should call (877) 823-6926.

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