A tugboat captain piloting a 230-foot barge intentionally ran the vessel aground near San Francisco’s St. Francis Yacht Club on Tuesday to prevent it from sinking and possibly causing an environmental disaster, company officials said.
The captain pushing the unmanned barge made a split-second decision to ground the ship in a shallow part of the Bay near the yacht club’s entrance around 7:30 a.m.
Spokeswoman Joan McCoy of barge operator Foss Maritime Co. said the tugboat captain recognized that the barge had begun taking on water.
“That’s when the decision was made to ground it,” she said. “That way, fuel and other oil could be removed from the barge without it sinking.”
Why the barge started taking on water is unknown, McCoy said. Coast Guard officials are investigating how much oil may have leaked into the Bay.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Laura Williams confirmed that the engine room of the barge had started taking on water.
The barge has the capacity to hold 4,800 gallons of diesel fuel, hydraulic fuel and lube oil, Williams said.
A small sheen of oil was spotted on the water and boom was deployed around the barge to contain any leaking fuel, Williams said.
The quick deployment of the boom to contain the potential spill was one of many lessons learned after the wreck of the Cosco Busan, which spilled nearly 58,000 gallons of sludgy bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay in 2007. The spill was caused after the ship struck a fender around the Bay Bridge Tower.
Wildlife was severely impacted by the Cosco Busan spill, with the oil reaching shores as far north as Stinson Beach in Marin County and as far south as Pacifica in San Mateo County.
Williams said the Cosco Busan, as well as other spills in the Bay, have kept preparedness levels high.
“Unfortunately we’ve had several small spills since Cosco Busan,” she said. “But we work and do training on a regular basis so that when an incident happens, everyone is prepared. Some are results of Cosco Busan, some are lessons learned after working with these people.”
Coast Guard pollution investigators and a 25-foot response boat were at the scene of the grounding most of the day. No injuries were reported.
The barge was shipping sand for a dredging operation, Williams said.
The stuck barge was not blocking passage for boaters.
Examiner Staff Writer Mike Aldax contributed to this report.