San Francisco Bay sailing rules could change in wake of latest Bay Bridge crash 

click to enlarge Fog was severely limiting visibility when the Overseas Reymar struck the Bay Bridge last week. - REUTERS FILE PHOTO
  • Reuters File Photo
  • Fog was severely limiting visibility when the Overseas Reymar struck the Bay Bridge last week.

Large ships sailing under the Bay Bridge when there’s heavy fog might face new restrictions, as policymakers reconsider guidelines in the wake of an empty oil tanker striking the span last week.

The 752-foot tanker Overseas Reymar left from south of the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7 to head out to sea. At the time, fog limited visibility to about a quarter-mile. The tanker collided with a bridge tower, causing an estimated $3 million to $4 million in damage to the wood-and-plastic fender system that protects the support structure.

The Coast Guard on Thursday asked the Harbor Safety Committee to revisit guidelines about sailing in fog that it made after the Cosco Busan crash in 2007. That incident, in which a tanker also struck a tower but dumped more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the water, led to guidelines that limited ships sailing in nine sections of the Bay when there is visibility of a half-mile or less.

But when the guidelines for ships maneuvering in the fog were created in 2008, the consensus reached by the maritime community exempted the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. The former was not included so ships could still maneuver into the Bay in heavy fog, said Capt. Lynn Korwatch, executive director of the nonprofit Marine Exchange of the San Francisco Bay Region. The Bay Bridge was not included so that ships could reach the many anchorages south of the span and not pile up in the main channels and ports, Korwatch said.

A navigation committee of the Marine Exchange, which offers guidelines for issues involving shipping in the Bay, is taking up the fog issue, and it could have a preliminary recommendation in the next few weeks, Korwatch said.

State and federal marine officials said the proposal could include stopping ships from leaving from south of the Bay Bridge when visibility is less than a half-mile, but allowing ships to still sail under the span from the north. Both the Cosco Busan and the Overseas Reymar incidents included tankers leaving from the south side.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Jan. 7 crash continues, with the Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and the California Board of Pilot Commissioners probing the incident.

The Coast Guard has concluded its interviews with bar pilot Guy Kleess, who was navigating the ship at the time of the incident, and the crew.

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