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Grand investigation into cause, response to oil spill

By Jeff Shuttleworth and Laura Dudnick

November 10, 2007

Local officials say they will investigate Wednesday's 58,000-gallon oil spill in the San Francisco Bay from every angle possible, from cause to response to prevention.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, said Friday that as Chair of the state Assembly Committee on Natural Resources she will hold an emergency oversight hearing next week to review response efforts to the spill.

The hearing will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at a Bay Area location that will be announced later, she said.

Hancock said during the hearing the committee will have an opportunity to investigate what led to the spill, assess current conditions and examine the environmental damage as well as determine what immediate steps will be necessary to ensure proper cleanup and protection of coastal and marine resources and wildlife.

About 9,500 gallons of oil have been scooped up from the San Francisco Bay following the spill, but cleaning the water is growing more difficult as the oil thins and spreads, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

A 900-foot container ship piloted by Capt. John Cota clipped a tower of the bridge, gashing a hole in the left side of the vessel that leaked fuel. The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the accident.

"We're looking at the inner workings of various crewmembers on board the vessel," said Ross Wheatley, chief of investigations for the U.S. Coast Guard. "We take a look at how those people function, what information they had and how they shared it."

Coast Guard officials will also investigate the vessel itself once it is transported to the Port of Oakland, Uberti said.

Regal Stone Ltd., the company that owns Cosco Busan, is paying for all cleanup costs associated with the spill, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Anya Hunter said.

Officials are investigating communication problems among the crew onboard the Cosco Busan at the time of the crash as a possible cause of the collision, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti said.

Barry McFarland, a spokesman for the O'Brien's Group, an organization contracted by Cosco Busan, said 11 skimmers that have been scooping up oil since the spill are expected to continue cleaning efforts for the next few days.

Approximately 18,000 feet of boom current, which acts as floating oil barriers, have been dispersed throughout the bay, McFarland said. About 60,000 feet of additional containment barrier boom are ready for deployment as well, he said.

Muir Beach and Angel Island closed this morning, and ferry service to Angel Island was canceled as well, California State Park officials said.

Commuter ferry services in the Bay Area are running on schedule, and although personal boats have not been restricted from sailing in the bay the Coast Guard is advising boaters to keep their vessels docked while cleaning efforts ensue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency while visiting the site of the spill.

In a statement, Hancock said, "This oil spill is a wake up call for the Bay Area. For a spill of relatively small size, it has quickly spread out of control, impacting not only the waters and wildlife of the Bay but also the Pacific Ocean and our coastal beaches."

Hancock said, "It is imperative that the committee hold this hearing to evaluate the response to this spill so that we are better prepared for future events of potentially greater significance."

As the oil disperses throughout the bay, more than 10 beaches remain closed after birds and humans saturated in soil emerged from the polluted waters Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Coast Guard.

Both local and state officials have expressed their concern with the bay's situation.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said in a written statement he and his colleagues "remain vigilant in our pursuit of answers as to why this disaster occurred, how we can contain the damage it's causing and how we can prevent it in the future."

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-San Francisco, reiterated a Marine Casualty Investigation is underway. "Those responsible for the severe breakdown in communication will be held accountable," Boxer said in a written statement.


Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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