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National News

January 22, 2013

Tanker ship strikes San Francisco Bay Bridge tower

No oil reported leaking

SAN FRANCISCO — A 752-foot oil tanker sailing in the fog collided with a tower of the Bay Bridge on Monday morning, spilling no oil but raising questions about oil tanker safety in San Francisco Bay.

The ship, the Overseas Reymar, based in the Marshall Islands, had unloaded its oil at the Shell refinery in Martinez only hours before it grazed the Echo Tower of the Bay Bridge at 11:18 a.m., between Yerba Buena Island and San Francisco. Although it was carrying thousands of gallons of bunker fuel, authorities said it appeared none of that spilled either.

“We’re still keeping an eye out to make sure,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena. “But as of right now, initial reports from the pilot, the Coast Guard and local agencies show no pollution has hit the water.”

The pilot of the ship was identified as Guy Kleess, 61, of San Francisco, a former Exxon oil tanker captain who has been involved in at least three other shipping accidents since 2009.

The incident recalled a similar Bay Bridge collision five years ago, when the Cosco Busan, a 901-foot-long cargo ship, hit the adjacent tower of the Bay Bridge, spilling 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the bay, fouling 69 miles of shoreline and killing thousands of birds.

That an oil tanker similar in size to the Exxon Valdez, with the capacity to haul millions of gallons of heavy crude oil, hit a bridge again in San Francisco Bay alarmed environmentalists.

“With a quarter-mile of visibility, they probably should not have been transiting the bay. This was a close call,” said Deb Self, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental group. “The ship’s capacity is 505,000 barrels of oil. Luckily it was empty. Or we could have had a real disaster.”

Biologists for years have said that if a large oil tanker spills in the bay, the currents could carry much of it southward, where it would devastate egrets, herons, harbor seals, salmon and other species in the marshes and wetlands. Because of the weak tidal action in the southern part of the bay, the oil would take months, if not years, to remove.

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