Baykeeper received a briefing from the Coast Guard on the current status of the oil spill caused by a sunken tug boat in Richmond's Inner Harbor last month. We're pleased to report that oil is no longer actively seeping from the tug, and efforts are underway to remove the remaining fuel oil from the boat. However, the salvage process will be risky, and the threat of a larger spill will remain until all the oil has been removed from the vessel.
As previously reported, on Sunday, December 11, a WWII-era tugboat, the Tiger, sank into Richmond's Inner Harbor. Oil began seeping into surrounding waters, and the Coast Guard and State Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) established containment operations. Approximately 1,400 gallons of oily water mixture were collected.
The slip is now blocked off effectively with multiple rows of boom, including a custom system that allows three of the booms to rise and fall with the tide. Skimmers are removing any oil still coming off the boat.
The Coast Guard estimates that as much as 78,000 gallons of intermediate grade fuel oil may still be on board and at risk of spilling. They believe the oil is outside the fuel tanks and flowing freely throughout the vessel on top of the water the tug has taken on.
Currently about a third of the Tiger's hull is buried in mud; it is listing at about 15 degrees. Her sister tug, the Lion, was carefully removed from the slip, so the Tiger is no longer threatening the stability of the Lion. All of the 14,000 gallons of fuel were removed from the Lion, and she remains afloat.
The large bird sanctuary of Brooks Island, which is directly across from the Port of Richmond, remains boomed off as effectively as possible. East Bay Regional Park Site rangers are checking the island’s bird habitat daily and haven’t yet seen signs of oiling.
The tugs were abandoned by an unknown owner living abroad. The Coast Guard has federalized the case, so the federal Oil Spill Trust Fund is being used to pay for the emergency work to prevent a major oil spill and to salvage the vessel.
A salvage plan was approved to lift the tug from the water over the course of the next month. Winches are being installed now on the piers on either side of the tug, and in the coming week, the vessel will be righted by cables. After righting the tug, salvage teams will begin preparations to pump out the oil and water with 15 submersible pumps that will divert the oil to massive tanks on land.
If preparations go as planned, the oil pumping will be done during the extremely low tides on February 2 or 3, when any spilled oil can be more easily contained.
Baykeeper will continue to monitor the efforts to clean up and contain oil from the sunken tug.
Photo courtesy of the Coast Guard.