Captain keeps oil from spilling out of beached barge

February 15, 2011 7:08:54 PM PST
The captain of a sinking barge in used some quick thinking to avoid what could have been an environmental mess. The barge was intentionally beached near the St. Francis Yacht Club Tuesday after it started taking on water and of the 3,800 gallons of oil on board the barge, only one gallon was spilled into the bay.

At the Golden Gate Yacht Club, any new or visiting vessel becomes an object of curiosity, but they have never seen one like this. A dredging barge called the Sand Merchant sits at the Marina's entrance, just off the green.

Although Tuesday morning the spill looked significant, it appears to have had minimal impact, due partly to protective booms that Foss Maritime deployed around the barge and its tug.

Just the same, that oil concerned the environmental group Baykeeper enough that they launched a boat to survey the scene, first-hand. They were encouraged by the response and the absence of oil on the water, but remain watchful.

"It is good to see the booms in place if there is some kind of oil leak," Baykeeper spokesperson Andrea Kopecky said.

The dredge beaching near the Golden Gate Yacht Club was not happenstance. The Sand Merchant had been in mid-bay early Tuesday morning,when it began taking on water. By moving it here, to the shallows, its captain prevented the barge from sinking and causing a much more serious problem.

The Coast Guard believes Foss Maritime has handled this by the book.

"They made some really good calls; I cannot say what went wrong, but they made a good call to put it where it is," Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Rachel Wellman said.

By mid-afternoon, the company had moved in a second barge to transfer some of the 3,000 tons of sand still aboard and to lighten the load. The hole in the barge has been patched. They will continue to try to lighten the barge's load and crews are expected to try to move it Tuesday night.


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