Investigation into barge accident

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image kgo"><span>KGO</span></div><span class="caption-text">A photograph of the damage to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. &#40;Coast Guard&#41; (KGO)</span></div>
January 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The Coast Guard responded quickly to a collision between a vessel and a bridge support tower in the bay. On Thursday night an oil barge hit a support fender of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. No oil was reported spilled, unlike the Cosco Busan last November which spilled 58,000 gallons.

The oil barge is scheduled to arrive at Conoco-Phillips' facility Friday night where it will be siphoned off, the tanks cleaned and ultimately go into dry dock where it will be repaired. However, it looks like fixing that barge will be a lot easier than figuring out what happened.

The Coast Guard credits the design of the oil barge Cascade and the bridge's fender system with saving the bay from another oil spill.

The fenders on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge are designed to cushion a collision. Oil barges have to be double hulled, with no oil stored in the front.

"You'll see me smiling a little bit this morning because we know for certain that it's absolutely true, there was nothing spilled. All the oil remains onboard the barge," says Captain John E. Long with the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Cascade was carrying about three million gallons of fuel oil, headed from Rodeo's Conoco-Phillips refinery to Oregon. It hit the east piling of the west span of the bridge at about 6:00 p.m. Thursday night.

The barge is un-manned and was being towed by the Pacific Wolf tugboat and pushed by the Delta Deanna.

Sam Sacco is spokesman for K-Sea, the Seattle-based company that owns both the Pacific Wolf and the barge.

"We don't know what happened. That's what we're waiting for in terms of the investigation," says Sacco.

The Coast Guard says the tugboat crews passed alcohol tests. Drug results are pending.

Visibility was good at one to two miles, and there was nothing unusual about the sea or weather conditions.

"There are a lot of things that can play in it from crew fatigue, plain old crew error, environmental factors, again, they had a following current... there are a lot things that can play into it," says Captain Long.

The Coast Guard says it had a crew on the way 17 minutes after it got the call and oil spill response boats were there within an hour of the accident.

This accident comes just two months after the Cosco Busan container ship oil spill when it hit the Bay Bridge. The Coast Guard says it might surprise us to know that commercial vessels hit Bay Area and Delta bridges up to three to six times per year. Oil barges carry their oil in separate internal tanks, specifically to limit the size of a spill in case of an accident.

Caltrans says the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is safe for cars.