SEEPING THROUGH SAN FRAN: Oil Spill Ravages OB, Mavericks Next?

Last Wednesday morning the cargo ship Cosco Busan misjudged its course and was gutted by a Bay Bridge tower. While the bridge was unharmed, the 90 foot gash emptied 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay, making the early morning fog even more ominous. The oil, used strictly for large ships, is a heavy byproduct of refining, and is gooey and thick, laden with heavy metals, sulfur, and other polluting chemicals.

“The main thing surfers should know is that this is not your Grannie’s motor oil,” says pillar of the Mavericks surf culture, Grant Washburn. “This is toxic waste.”

“The main thing surfers should know is that this is not your Grannie’s motor oil,” says pillar of the Mavericks surf culture, Grant Washburn. “This is toxic waste. Bunker fuel is nothing like the little tar balls surfers have been frolicking in for decades. This stuff is the nastiest of the nasty, and several Doctors have told me they believe the substances being sown into our shore are responsible for things like Parkinsons and other nerve disorders – even in trace amounts. It is sucked up by human tissue, travelling right through cell walls,” Washburn warns.

Environmentalists are pushing Congress for a ban on this nasty product, already securing 5,000 signatures of public support by this Monday. Teri Shore, campaign director for the marine program Friends of the Earth, defines it as "the dirtiest fuel on the planet," adding "ships are being used as waste incinerators for the oil industry." By now, irreparable damage has been done to countless marine life and devastated over a dozen beaches.

Faltering with their first step, the Coast Guard brutally underestimated the severity of the spill, but has since quickened their pace, and with the help of volunteers has begun the damage control. The Coast Guard also received some criticism for not alerting city officials quickly enough; however, steps have been made to make up lost footing. Among them, on Friday the 9th, Governor Schwarzenegger declared a State of Emergency, allowing state funds and resources to aid in the cleanup. Schwarzenegger also questioned the blame of the tragedy, stating: "I think obviously there was human error taken place. I can't imagine all this space that he hit the bridge." A Federal criminal investigation has begun, examining radio transmissions between the Coast Guard and Cosco Busan. While the Coast Guard would not comment, the National Transportation Safety Board confirms that traffic control asked the vessel's "intentions" after observing its positioning approaching the bridge.

As the community continues to clean the coast, surfers seem to be the most effective in cleaning up the mess, although officially they should not be helping unless they have been "properly" trained. But a group called Kill the Spill has pushed for the EPA to streamline their hazardous materials clean up class from twenty-four hours to four, in an effort to train volunteers and not lose more ground on this spill.

The spill is the largest in the bay's history, over five times worse than the 1996 spill when 10,000 gallons were leaked from a ship receiving repairs. While the reason for the spill is still under investigation, the crew and pilot did pass alcohol tests following the accident.

Word came in this morning that the effects of the spill might have made their way towards Maverick's, however, the deputy harbor master at Pillar Point Harbor said they had not yet seen any oil, in the harbor or at Mav's. Matt Warshaw had reportedly been surfing up north in Pacifica last Friday, Saturday, and Monday, when "the goo was at its gooiest," and he barely noticed it. Just yesterday however, when the water seemed the cleanest, and the waves were the best they'd been in a week, the authorities decided to close the beach to everyone. All Pacifica beaches are now closed.

The spill was devastating, as was the immediate response, but this is not a time for second thoughts or regret. While most efforts can be traced to volunteers, at least the officials have begun to pick up the slack. Better late than never.

More Info:
Chronicle story

Pacifica Tribune

HMB Website

Marin Independent Journal

San Mateo County Health Department