The owner and operator of the Dubai Star, an oil tanker that spilled 422 gallons of thick, black bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay in 2009, will pay $1.96 million to settle the case with state and local authorities.
Although the spill was relatively small -- the freighter Cosco Busan spilled more than 50,000 gallons when it hit a tower of the Bay Bridge in 2007 -- state officials said it still harmed the bay, wildlife and public recreation.
"There's no such thing as a minor oil spill in San Francisco Bay," said Capt. Scott Schaefer, acting administrator of the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response, a division of the state Fish and Game Department.
The settlement was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.
Under the agreement, the owner of the 600-foot Dubai Star, South Harmony Shipping, of Panama, and its operator, Pioneer Ship Management, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will pay to settle violations of state clean water laws, Schaefer said.
Most of the money will be used to restore wildlife habitat and enhance public recreation in the East Bay, although $550,000 is in civil penalties.
The spill occurred on Oct. 30, 2009, while the Dubai Star's crew was refueling the ship with bunker fuel being pumped from a barge owned by Foss Maritime. The oil tanker, which was carrying jet fuel as its cargo and was preparing to head for Mexico, was sitting at Anchorage 9, an area south of the Bay Bridge, between San Francisco and Alameda.
During the refueling, a tank on the ship's port side filled to capacity and began overflowing, sending 2,000 gallons of sticky, black fuel onto the deck, and 422 gallons into the water. An investigation showed that nobody noticed the overflow until it was too late, alarms didn't sound, and the crew of the Panama-flagged Dubai Star waited hours before notifying cleanup companies.
It took four hours before cleanup crews deployed protective floating boom around the ship to contain the oil. The oil coated 10 miles of beaches in Alameda County, closing Crown Beach for 25 days. It killed an estimated 186 birds, according to the final count from the state Department of Fish and Game, including brown pelicans, grebes, American coots and shorebirds.
A year later, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, wrote a bill that would require all large ships being filled with bunker fuel in San Francisco Bay and the Port of Los Angeles to be surrounded by floating protective boom before filling starts. But amid objections from industry, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
"We still have concerns that they should be surrounding these things with boom," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "The excuse from the Coast Guard and the oil companies has been that the currents are too strong. If you have currents that prevent you from encircling it with boom, then you ought not to be doing it. You ought to be refueling at the dock. It's the height of irresponsibility."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045.