SAN FRANCISCO – An oil spill fouled miles of fragile coastline Thursday, sending environmentalists scrambling to save tarred marine life and leaving local officials questioning the Coast Guard’s response to the ship collision that triggered the slick.
About 58,000 gallons of oil spilled from a South Korea-bound container ship when it struck a tower supporting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in dense fog Wednesday. The accident did not damage the span, but the vessel’s hull was gashed, officials said.
Tides carried a plume of heavy fuel beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific Ocean. By Thursday afternoon, oil had been sighted as far north as Stinson Beach, about 15 miles north of the city, and at least eight beaches in San Francisco and Marin County were closed.
“What we have here are ribbons of oil just going all over the place,” Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti, captain of the Port of San Francisco, said after an aerial survey.
A hazy film of oil surrounded Alcatraz Island, and the plume extended well north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge. Birds were spotted alive and coated in oil, and state officials estimated the number of injured birds was in the dozens. At least six were found dead, the Department of Fish and Game said.
The coast north of San Francisco ranges from sandy beaches to barren cliffs to sensitive marshes. Environmentalists fear the impact on shorebirds, fish and marine mammals could be felt for months or years.
“We’re looking at almost everything being affected,” said Sejal Choksi of the environmental group San Francisco Baykeeper.
City officials said the Coast Guard initially underreported the size of the spill, believed to be the biggest in the bay since 1988.