Monday, November 12, 2007

Criminal Investigation Launched In Response to San Francisco Bay Oil Spill

With today's technology, it baffles me how something like this was allowed to happen. Were there no adequate rules in place regarding cargo ships operating in heavy fog? Was there no procedure for guiding ships through the Bay in fog? Did the Coast Guard have this responsibility? Why wasn't more done to prevent this kind of accident? Why did it take an hour and a half for crews to arrive to contain the spill (see report), and why did it take 4 hours for the Coast Guard to notify local authorities? Who dropped the ball?

This is once again another case of a foreseeable accident being allowed to occur, due to what appears to be a lack of planning, a lack of foresight, a lack of communication, etc. The same problems that have been seen over and over and over again.

Meanwhile the SF Bay environment may never be the same. Large amounts of wildlife have been impacted, and the vibrant SF Bay Seafood industry has come to a halt.

Senators Dianne Feinstein & Barbara Boxer are livid about the situation and will push for Congressional hearings.

see report from the San Jose Mercury

The U.S. Attorney's Office has launched a criminal probe into the cause of an oil spill that occurred after a cargo ship crashed into the Bay Bridge, killing wildlife, staining beaches and threatening the region's Dungeness crab industry.

The nature of the probe remains undisclosed, but Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti told the Associated Press he notified federal investigators on Saturday about issues involving management and communication among members of the bridge crew: the helmsman, the watch officer, the ship's master and the pilot.

Federal investigators were questioning crew members on board the ship, but they would be free to go afterward, Uberti said. "The normal procedure is to hold the crew for questioning so when (investigators) are done with them they can go," Uberti said. Uberti declined to specify what problems he reported to federal prosecutors. "It was just the way that everybody interacted" on the bridge, he said.

A call to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Northern California was not returned Sunday.

Darrell Wilson, a representative for Regal Stone Ltd., the Hong Kong-based company that owns the ship, the Cosco Busan, declined to comment Sunday on the investigation.

As a slew of investigators combed through the details of the accident, volunteers and more than 40 local, state and federal agencies worked Sunday to clean up the 58,000-gallon spill - the worst to hit the Bay Area in nearly two decades.

The head of the U.S. Coast Guard, in the Bay Area Sunday for a one-day visit, defended the Coast Guard's response to the incident.
Commandant Adm. Thad Allen arrived in San Francisco from Washington, D.C., on Sunday afternoon, meeting with cleanup crews and state and local officials, and surveying from the air the damage caused after the cargo ship crashed into a Bay Bridge tower Wednesday morning.

"It's clear that everyone understands the gravity of the situation," Allen said.
Coast Guard officials have pinned the blame for the crash on human error, not mechanical failure, and the Coast Guard is working with the U.S. Attorney's Office on the criminal investigation.

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