Baykeeper Update

Oil Spill Harms Swimmers, Coast Guard Responds with Cleanup

On Saturday, September 20, as swimmers in the annual Dolphin Club Alcatraz Swim were heading into San Francisco’s Aquatic Park, an oil slick drifted across their path. Several swimmers were oiled and a historic rowing boat was left with a “bathtub ring” of oil. So were all of the historic boats at Hyde Street Pier. Swimmers and beachgoers were warned away from the water at Aquatic Park.

The source was the World War II-era ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, which is now a nonprofit museum docked near Aquatic Park at Pier 45. Swimmers alerted Baykeeper about the oil spill. We were able to help initiate a response by the Coast Guard, state Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Regional Water Board, and a professional oil spill response company.

The good news is that Coast Guard Sector San Francisco ordered a fast and thorough response. The spill was estimated to be only 30 to 40 gallons. But given the risk to human health and the environment, the Coast Guard opted to “federalize” the response, which means they prioritized a quick response, without worrying about who would be responsible for the costs. Nearly 5,000 feet of boom and absorbent pads were deployed, and most of the oil was contained and removed.

Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self, who serves as vice-chair of California’s Oil Spill Technical Advisory Committee, monitored the cleanup efforts. “The response to this oil spill was successful and appropriate, including better-than-ever communication with local agencies and Baykeeper,” said Deb.

“While we’re pleased with the effective response, we really want oil spills to be prevented from happening, especially in a location that poses a threat to swimmers and beachgoers at Aquatic Park,”  she continued. 

Deb boarded the Jeremiah O’Brien with Coast Guard officials to attend the investigation, which is still ongoing. Baykeeper will continue to monitor the results of the investigation, and advocate for improved safeguards to prevent future spills.