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Bay Bridge Hit by Container Ship; Oil Slick
A Hanjin container ship that struck the Bay Bridge tower sits idle off of Treasure Island as a U.S. Coast Guard vessel inspects the damage on the freighter on Wednesday.
Update: Bridge OK after hit, but oil slick a mystery
By Erik N. Nelson and Bill Brand, Staff Writers
Article Last Updated: 11/07/2007 05:14:12 PM PST
A Hanjin container ship that struck the Bay Bridge tower sits idle off of Treasure Island as a U.S. Coast Guard vessel inspects the damage on the freighter on Wednesday. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Michael Macor) The Bay Bridge was undamaged when a 900-foot container ship plowed into one of its abutments in a heavy fog at 8:30 a.m. this morning, but authorities are still trying to determine the extent of a fuel oil spill and reports of fumes along San Francisco's waterfront, according to Caltrans and the U.S. Coast Guard.
This COSCO Busan, carrying containers for the China Ocean Shipping Co., struck an impact-absorbing system of plastic beams called a fender, near the center of the bridge's western span, said Bart Ney, who normally keeps the public apprised on the $5.7 billion project to rebuild the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
Caltrans engineers issued a preliminary report on the damage at about noon, and determined that the bridge was unscathed, Ney said.
"It did what it was supposed to do," Ney said. "The bridge didn't even feel the impact."
But the impact tore a gash in the side of the vessel, which leaked fuel oil into the Bay, according to reports from the Coast Guard, which moved the vessel to anchorage off of the former naval base on Alameda.
Reports of oil fumes wafting onto the San Francisco waterfront have also come in to city agencies, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Kevin Neff. Authorities had not received any word of anyone being sickened by the fumes, however.
The ship's owner, South Korea-based Hanjin Shipping, "is in the process of acquiring contractors to clean up the mess," Neff said. "We're trying to assist in contining the spill and keep people away from it."
Authorities still aren't sure of the extent of the spill, Neff said, and now that fog has cleared, a Coast Guard helicopter will take state and local emergency and environmental officials aloft to determine how much oil escaped an 80-by-20-foot gash in the ship's side and how far it has spread.
Heading north on its way out to sea, the ship struck the fender around what Caltrans refers to as tower W4, which is the first suspension tower east of the massive
A container ship hit the Bay Bridge support tower west of Treasure Island Wednesday morning around 8:30 am. This photo shows the damage the hit caused to the tower. (photo /Oakland Police Marine Patrol Unit) concrete anchorage midway between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island.
"We lost about 100 feet of the fender system," which rised 20-30 feet above the water line, Ney said. "They are designed to disintegrate when they are hit by a large ship."
Coast guard investigators are still attempting to ascertain the cause of the collision, Neff said.
According to Dan Leininger, a retired U.S. Navy lt. commander who used to navigate a 700-foot nuclear powered cruiser through the same area, the trip should have been routine even with the bridge shrouded in fog.
"The bridge shows up on radar real well," said Leininger, who now serves as harbormaster for Oakland Marinas. "They would have been able to see the bridge (on radar), but not necessarily the abutments. However, the abutments are marked with buoys, which also show up on radar."
According to the Coast Guard, the ship also had a local pilot onboard, which Leininger said "should know the area like the back of his hand."
The resulting damage will need to be repaired, Ney said. Although it's not known how much that repair will cost, it is probably extensive enough to require an emergency contract, rather than simply sending out a Caltrans maintenance crew.