Freighter lost power near Marin Headlands

January 28, 2009 11:34:41 AM PST
An oil tanker almost hit the rocky shore and stalled-out south of Sausalito in the San Francisco Bay, just west of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The tanker is called the Overseas Cleliamar and was headed to Ecuador when hit lost power. The reason why it lost power is under investigation.

People in the Marin Headlands couldn't believe their eyes. It was just before sunset, when they saw a 741-foot oil tanker in trouble near Point Diablo.

"It looked like it was going to hit the point and we couldn't believe how close it was. It was a huge tanker," said Erik Mathon, a witness.

Mathon captured the distressed ship on camera. The U.S. Coast Guard says the tanker lost power just after passing the Golden Gate Bridge. It then dropped anchor ordered by the bar pilot on board, and witnesses say moments later, they saw the tanker spinning clockwise.

"The whole tanker spun around and almost nosed into the point," said Mathon.

The first Coast Guard crew arrived within 10 minutes of getting the call. Officers believe the vessel may have come within five meters of hitting shore, but they are confident the tanker did not run aground.

"We believe and have confidence from all the assets that were on scene, three tug boats, four Coast Guard vessels, and a Coast Guard helicopter overhead, that it did not touch shore," said Capt. Tom Cullen, from the Coast Guard.

The tanker regained power after five minutes, but Coast Guard crews remained at its side, checking for any possible damage or leaks. The tanker had unloaded all of its cargo at Point Richmond, but it can hold as much as 840,000 gallons of oil for its own propulsion.

On Wednesday morning, the Coast Guard said they are fairly confident the tanker did not crash into anything or pollute the bay.

The vessel master and a San Francisco bar pilot have tested negative for both drugs and alcohol. The rest of the crew has also been tested.

Tugboats helped move the tanker back to San Francisco Bay. Where it will get any needed repairs at Anchorage Nine. Witnesses are relieved.

"I like to fish out there for salmon, and I like to see the waters stay as clear as possible," said Lonner Ralston, a witness.

By all accounts a crisis was averted. Coast Guard officials believe the oil tanker may have come within five meters of hitting the shore. But, they are confident it did not run aground. The Coast Guard is pleased with its response and the captain said it was a textbook response.

The Overseas Cleliamar is owned by the Overseas Shipholding Group based in New York. The 741-foot oil tanker was built in 1993 and is registered in the Marshall Islands. In December of 2006, the company pleaded guilty to 33 felony counts of deliberate vessel pollution and falsifying log entries. And in November of 2007, the Overseas Cleliamar was involved in rescuing the crew of a fishing boat adrift near Ecuador.