NTSB joins investigation into oil tanker crash

(KGO)
January 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The National Transportation Safety Board has gotten involved as the Coast Guard continues its investigation into the oil tanker crash into a Bay Bridge tower Monday. The agency will coordinate with the Coast Guard, which classified the accident Tuesday as a "major marine casualty" because the incident exceeded the threshold of more than $500,000 in property damage.

The ship at the center of the incident is the 750-foot long "Overseas Raymar." Around 11:30 a.m. Monday, it sideswiped the base of the Bay Bridge tower just west of Treasure Island sustaining damage to its hull. An approximately 40-foot section of the tower sustained damage, but traffic on the bridge was not affected. The ship is capable of hauling 500,000 gallons of oil but had already unloaded its oil at the Chevron refinery in Martinez and gone on to refuel so it could make its next trip.

On Tuesday morning, Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney said, "The fender system performed the way that it was designed. It gave in and kept the momentum of the ship from touching the actual structure of the bridge. That's why we didn't have to close it. We are going to have to replace somewhere between 30 and 40 feet of material. That material is sort of wood and plastic composites that we use to absorb the brunt of these types of allisions."

Asked for an update on the investigation, Coast Guard Lt. Heather Lampert said Tuesday, "We have investigators and marina inspectors on board the vessel searching every inch of the vessel. They got permission to go into the void space, so they are now searching the area where the vessel hit impact with the Bay Bridge. So, they're now looking into seeing if there's any damage to the hull in that area and they continue to investigate and interview the crew on board, as well as the pilot."

The Coast Guard also says it was in communication with the ship as it was moving near the tower. "What happens when a ship leaves Anchorage 9, as in this case, or the dock, they're in constant communication with the pilot and VTS, Coast Guard VTS," Lampert said. "And what happens is they stay in communication letting them know their course, their direction, visibility, and that kind of information. In this case, VTS was in constant communication with the pilot prior to the incident happening."

After the Cosco Busan disaster in San Francisco Bay in 2007, a rule instituted by the Coast Guard requires that ships have a one-half mile visibility. The Overseas Raymar had only a one-quarter mile visibility Monday but the Coast Guard says the rule did not apply in the specific area of the crash.

"After the Cosco Busan happened, a group got together with the Coast Guard and Harbor Safety Committee, and they implemented what's called 'critical maneuvering areas.' The Bay Bridge is not considered a critical maneuvering area," Lampert said. "And the Cosco Busan's incident, the Oakland-Alameda estuary where the vessel was leaving, is considered a critical maneuvering area, which they're required to have the half-mile."

Those nine areas do not include the portion of the Bay Bridge where Monday's incident took place.

Tuesday, even the Coast Guard admitted it does not know why.

"I do not know and it will be investigated more after this incident," Lampert said.

The ABC7 News I-Team has uncovered new information about Guy Kleess, the man piloting the Overseas Rayward. He's had at least two prior incidents in Northern California. Kleess passed an alcohol test, but the results of a drug test are pending.

There is still no word on how the Overseas Raymar initially got off course Monday. The Coast Guard's investigation continues. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in the Bay Area Tuesday afternoon to begin their investigation. The NTSB will work with the Coast Guard and come up with its own report. It could take months.

Terry McSweeney, Lyanne Melendez and Wayne Freedman contributed to this report.


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