Shipping Disaster Averted (Again) in SF Bay
Our friends at San Francisco Baykeeper got yet another jolt a week ago, when the huge oil tanker, Overseas Reymar, was reported to have hit the Bay Bridge in some fog. While both the bridge and the tanker suffered some scrapes (if you can call $3-4 million in damage to the bridge’s wooden-and-plastic bumper system a scrape), nothing was spilled and no harm was done to the environment. This time.
Unfortunately though, the Bay has hosted an alarming number of shipping mishaps. It was only in 2007 when the Cosco Busan cargo ship sideswiped the same Bay Bridge tower, cutting a 211-foot hole in the side of the ship, causing some 53,000 gallons of fuel to contaminate 69 miles of shoreline and to kill more than 6,500 birds.
And again, advocates are wondering why we haven’t done more to increase shipping safety in the harbor. As the Contra Costa times editorialized:
Amazingly, rules put in place after the Cosco Busan collision to restrict travel in fog were not applied near the bridge.
Amazingly, while oil tankers must be escorted by tugboat through the bay, there are no such requirements for ships carrying deadly chemicals.
Amazingly, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill requiring cleanup crews to respond to oil spills in the bay in two hours rather than six, and another requiring large ships being filled with bunker fuel to be surrounded by floating protective boom.
Monday’s accident should serve as yet another wake-up call. We must be smart, we must be vigilant and we must be prepared. Unfortunately, we haven’t been any of those things.
According to the SF Examiner, the U.S. Coast Guard has asked that previously proposed guidelines for fog operations be revisited. In 2008, after the Cosco Busan incident, stricter rules to limit shipping during low visibility fog in parts of the Bay were implemented, but not near the Golden Gate or Bay bridges.
Shipping navigation is already notoriously low-tech, and needs to be improved for safety. Still, it would help if our current systems were better maintained. According to the Coast Guard, some of the radar transponders on the Bay Bridge were not working when the tanker clipped one of the towers.
The most recent accident is still under investigation, but maybe this incident will be cause for another look at shipping safety in the Bay.