Dillon Beach, CA

Investigation Underway Over Potential Oil Spill By Grounded Vessel North Of Dillon Beach

Amancay Tapia

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U.S. Coast guard officials are investigating a potential fuel spill off the coast of West Marin after a 90-foot fishing vessel named “American Challenger” ran aground on the rocks while being towed southward south from the Seattle area.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife;

“Initial reports were received by Coast Guard Sector San Francisco watchstanders at 8:45 am Friday, March 5, about the 90-foot vessel the American Challenger being towed southward by the Tug Hunter from Puget Sound, Washington, when the Tug Hunter lost propulsion due to a rope entangling the propeller.  At 1:00 am, March 6, the vessel grounded on a rocky shoreline near Dillon Beach where it remains”

Following protocol, the possible oil spill is being investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the Marin County Office of Emergency Services and the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. They are acting as a unified command to deal with the grounded vessel along the shoreline north of Dillon Beach.

Overflights observed a light sheen from the grounded boat in the water but by Sunday night it was still unclear how much fuel the boat carried or whether the fuel tanks were leaking or compromised.

The investigation underway is trying to determine the amount of fuel aboard the American Challenger, however, no extensive sheen was seen coming from the vessel.

According to Coast Guard spokesman Brandon Giles;

“ The boat’s location amid rocks has made it too dangerous for responders to reach”.

The deteriorating sea conditions and visibility made it impossible to tow the boat further, but the vessel American Challenger could be assessed with drones and salvage crews have developed a plan to access the boat via helicopter to estimate specific damage and quantify petroleum on vessel.

Officials have not yet confirmed if wildlife has been affected by oil spillages, but environmental shoreline assessment teams reported some oil contamination on the beach in the vicinity of the vessel.

As a precautionary measure, 4,000 feet of boom was deployed to safeguard sensitive locations, including oyster beds, in Tomales Bay. Additional booming is expected to be deployed this morning

Under Federal law -the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act- it is illegal to discharge any amount of fuel, oil or other petroleum product into the waters of the United States. And by law, any oil or fuel spill that leaves a sheen on the water must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center.

Numerous oil spills occur in U.S. waters each year. Most of these spills are small, such as when oil spills while refueling a ship. But even if they are small, they can still cause damage, particularly if they happen in sensitive environments, like beaches, mangroves, and wetlands.

On the other hand, large oil spills are considered major disasters as they have damaging consequences for the environment and wildlife. They usually occur when pipelines break, sizeable oil tanker ships sink, or drilling operations fail.

The biggest marine oil spill in U.S. history was the Deepwater Horizon spill . It happened on April 2010 when an explosion that killed 11 people, occurred on the drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico . It took three months before officials could cap the spill and approximately 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the ocean.

For now, all the beaches in the area remain open, but Miller Boat Launch is temporarily closed to support response operations. If oiled wildlife is seen, the members of the public must not approach the animal and should instead call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926.

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