A sunken boat is born quickly
A fishing boat sank near Marshall last Monday, releasing a burst of diesel fuel on the surface of Tomales Bay before the wreckage was refloated and removed. The Marian, a 33-foot wooden vessel, had been anchored in the area for several years and was apparently in poor condition. The incident is under investigation by the United States Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Teams from three separate agencies – the Coast Guard, NOAA and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife‘s Office of Spill Prevention and Response – responded the next day. They put up an absorbent boom around the ship to contain the spill on Tuesday night, and over the next two days Coast Guard contractors refloated the sunk boat with airbags, emptied it and plugged its vents to avoid further leaks. NOAA crews towed the wreckage to Marconi Cove Thursday afternoon, where it was run over by an excavator.
Before being contained, the fuel spill drifted into a shellfish concession area where the Point Reyes Oyster Company stores sacks of submerged oysters. Co-owner Whit Strain said his company immediately moved two shipments of oysters from the area to another lease, although the slick was unlikely to have done anything. “We didn’t feel our oysters were contaminated, but we didn’t want to take any chances either,” Strain said. “As oyster farmers, we know how to handle this stuff. It’s just a shame that it must have happened.
The Marian, built in 1946, was in poor condition and many on the east side of the bay expected her to sink. Mr. Strain said he noticed it was full of holes and assumed it was totally abandoned. “It’s unbelievable how long it took,” said Strain. “The owner hasn’t answered anyone’s calls for years.
Patrick Roy Harper, the boat’s owner, was fined $ 5,000 in 2019 after the Marian became detached from her mooring and ran aground north of Nick’s Cove, damaging federally protected seagrass beds. NOAA, which issued the violation, has opened an incident report for last week’s sinking and will investigate with the Coast Guard, said Paul Ortiz, a NOAA enforcement attorney.
Mr. Harper could not be reached for comment.
Authorities have removed more than 150 gallons of diesel fuel aboard the boat, and do not yet know how much has spilled, said Petty Officer Taylor Bacon, a Coast Guard public affairs specialist. He pointed out that the substance was diesel, not crude bunker fuel, so the environmental impact would be minimal. “Diesel is not a heavy contaminant,” he said. “It’s a lighter substance, it sits on the surface.”
Officer Bacon said the tablecloth would evaporate on its own. “The environment does a very good job of dispersing this type of fuel,” he said.
Yet local environmentalists are concerned about the collective effect of the shipwrecks around the bays of Tomales and Bodega. Richard James, a resident of Inverness known for his work in removing plastic pollution from the area, said authorities needed to be more proactive to tackle the risk of an oil spill.
“If this boat had been retired two years ago while still afloat, several thousand dollars would not have been wasted and Tomales Bay would be in better shape,” he wrote in an email to legislators.
Mr James said officials often avoid accountability because homeowners are often uninsured, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for collection efforts. These efforts are further complicated by the fact that the Emergency Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is funded by taxes from the oil companies, only pays for a portion of the works.
Earlier this year, a larger fishing vessel, the American Challenger, was wrecked on the rocky coast north of Dillon Beach. Emergency funding for the incident ran out once the threat of an oil spill was dealt with, and the Challenger was left on the rocks. After the incident, MP Marc Levine introduced a bill that would require all commercial vessels to carry insurance of at least $ 1,000,000 to cover the costs of removing the wreckage. The bill will have to be adopted during the legislative session next year.