New rules approved for ships sailing under Bay Bridge during fog 

Fog may have been severely limiting visibility when the Overseas Reymar struck the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7, 2013. - AP FILE PHOTO
  • AP file photo
  • Fog may have been severely limiting visibility when the Overseas Reymar struck the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7, 2013.

On Thursday morning, with dense fog blocking the view of Oakland from the San Francisco waterfront, maritime officials instituted new guidelines for large ships sailing under the Bay Bridge at times of reduced visibility.

The new guidelines come after the Overseas Reymar, a 752-foot tanker, struck a bridge tower while sailing out of the Bay on Jan. 7. The collision, which did not result in an oil spill, was the second time a large ship has hit the Bay Bridge. The first was in 2007 when the Cosco Busan leaked more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the water.

After the Cosco Busan crash, maritime officials created several areas in the Bay, called critical maneuvering areas, from which ships may not set sail if there is visibility of a half-mile or less. When the zones were created, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges were exempted, with the thinking that it is safer for ships to be able to enter the Bay and make it to safe anchoring sites, many of which are south of the Bay Bridge.

But after the Overseas Reymar incident, the Coast Guard asked the Harbor Safety Committee, which institutes safety guidelines for San Francisco Bay, to revisit the rules. On Monday, a working group for the committee proposed new temporary guidelines, which were unanimously approved by the committee Thursday.

Under the revised guidelines, ships will not be allowed to sail north under the Bay Bridge when there is visibility of a half-mile or less. Also, when there is any reduced visibility, large vessels are advised to use the outermost channels to go under the bridge. Those channels are roughly twice the size of the inside spans of the bridge.

The Coast Guard said Thursday that it has put procedures into place ensuring the new guidelines become effective immediately.

Members of the Harbor Safety Committee noted that the guidelines are likely to be revisited once the investigation into the causes of the Overseas Reymar crash is completed. The navigation working group that created the temporary guidelines may revisit all of the critical maneuvering areas in the Bay to see if they need to be updated, said Capt. Bruce Horton, a member of the Harbor Safety Committee.

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