Coast Guard: No leak from disabled tanker

January 28, 2009 7:44:02 PM PST
Coast Guard divers inspected an oil tanker in San Francisco Bay on Wednesday that nearly crashed into the Marin Headlands on Tuesday night. It was carrying thousands of gallons of fuel. The Coast Guard has officially determined there was no leak.

ABC7 went out with the Coast Guard on their trip to inspect the tanker Wednesday afternoon. The ship was at anchor with tug boats on both sides to help keep it stable.

The overseas Cleliamar was headed for Ecuador, empty, after unloading its fuel in Martinez. Coast Guard investigators are trying to determine why the tanker lost propulsion near the Marin Headlands.

"It could be a clogged fuel line, it could be electrical failure for throttle control; there are all sorts of things, so that's what is going to find out," said Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Cullen.

Coast Guard officials say fortunately the water depth off Point Diablo rapidly increases from two feet to 107 feet.

"So it's just a sheer rock face and continues right down into the water," said Capt. Cullen.

The tanker eventually restored its own power and was able to back away from the shoreline.

"The report is it did not touch bottom and there was no sign of damage to the vessel as we were inspecting it, so the signs point that it did not," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Levi Read.

A Coast Guard helicopter surveyed the area and found no signs of oil in the bay. This time there was a much faster response from emergency crews than there was in November 2007, when the Cosco Busan began spilling fuel after hitting a tower of the Bay Bridge.

"Within 20 minutes last night of getting the call we had, I believe there were six tug boats, and three Coast Guard boats all on scene. Iit was quite the little armada when they came in last night to the anchorage," said Capt. Cullen.

The Cosco Busan, because it was a cargo ship, had a single hull. The Cleliamar, because it is an oil tanker, must have a double hull to avoid an environmental disaster like the one in Alaska that occurred with the Exxon Valdez.

As soon as the Coast Guard gives the crew the all-clear, the ship will pass through the Golden Gate Bridge one more time.