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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dubai Star Owners Must Pay $2 Million for S.F. Bay Oil Spill

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 2:55 PM

This is what a $2 million spill looks like - COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO DA
  • Courtesy of the San Francisco DA
  • This is what a $2 million spill looks like

The owners of the Dubai Star oil tanker has to shell out $1.96 million for a 2009 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay that impacted more than 200 acres and killed some 100 seabirds, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said today.

About 75 percent of that cash -- which will be divvied up among San Francisco, Oakland, and the California Department of Fish and Game -- covers the cost of the damages, including restoring wildlife habitat and recreation areas. The rest of the sum will pay off civil penalties.

The DA's complaint, which also included Alameda

County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, charged South Harmony Shipping of Panama, owners of the Dubai Star, with violating the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act and the Fish & Game Code.  

The problems began just before 6 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2009, when a fueling barge pulled up beside the Dubai Star to pump bunker oil into its tank. The ships were stationed two and a half miles south of the Bay Bridge. What happened next, as the DA's complaint explains it, was a cascade of human and mechanical errors.

The complaint claims that the bunker oil overflowed out of the tank, onto the deck, and into the bay because a valve failed to close after a crewmember turned the wheel that was supposed to close it. Another crewmember overseeing tank levels from the control room "inexplicably failed to notice on his computer monitor" that the levels had exceeded capacity.

There were two alarms set up to go off when this happened, and neither of them sounded. Nobody on board noticed the ship's deck filling up with oil until more than 400 gallons had spilled. The captain of the ship did not notify any federal or state authorities until about 30 minutes after the accident, which leaked between 400 and 800 gallons of oil and took seven months to clean.

The spill is minor when compared to the 2007 Cosco Busan incident, which spilled more than 53,000 gallons. But the impact of the 2009 spill was still significant. Tides carried the oil to Alameda and Bay Farm Islands, and destroyed habitats as far away as the Oakland Airport. In total, the California Department of Fish & Game counted 113 dead seabirds.

And because of further wildlife losses, local crab fishermen are now suing the Dubai Star owners for $10 million.

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Albert Samaha

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