Bay cleanup may take days

San Francisco beaches were shut down and health concerns arose around the Bay on Wednesday afternoon as more than 50,000 gallons of fuel, which gushed for a half-hour from the hull of a ship after it clipped the Bay Bridge, oozed around San Francisco Bay. A San Francisco City Attorney's Office spokeswoman said Thursday that The City is examining all available legal options but no charges have yet been filed.

A 900-foot container ship crashed into the base of a Bay Bridge tower around 8:30 a.m., destroying 100 feet of a wooden fender system built to protect the bridge from such impacts. The Chinese-owned carrier ship Cosco Bucan was being navigated out of the Bay in foggy conditions by a veteran local pilot when it crashed. It was headed to South Korea with its cargo.

Swaths of oil had spread as far as Pier 39, Alcatraz and Angel Island by early afternoon. By early evening, oil had reached the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field, Baker Beach and Hunters Point, said

California Office of Spill Prevention and Response spokesman Rob Roberts. He said he expected cleanup operations to extend at least into the weekend.

Roberts’ investigation team estimated that 58,000 gallons of heavy duty fuel was lost into The Bay. Initial estimates were as low as 140 gallons. The slick spread quickly because of a strong tide, Roberts said, with wind also helping it to spread.

See photos of the cleanup and rescue effort: “Oil Spill: Tragedy for the Bay

Signs that forbid fishing have been erected around the Bay, and a boom was wrapped around Aquatic Park to keep out the oil. Officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health were called in and reported that people on port property near the spill experienced headaches and nausea.

Port workers were sent home around lunchtime, as the seriousness of the accident became apparent.

“The fumes at Pier 1 in the area of the Ferry Building were just overpowering,” Port spokeswoman Renee Dunn said.

Department of Public Health Director Mitch Katz said locals could be at risk from the oil only if they can smell the fumes.

Oil was scraped from the water’s surface throughout the day by a number of tugboat-sized vessels using specialized equipment known as skimmers, said Marine Spill Response Corporation Vice President Doug Ferrari. The U.S. Coast Guard is leading a multi-agency investigation to the incident, and private companies have been hired by the ship’s insurer to help clean up the slick.

Board of Pilot Commissioners executive director Patrick Moloney said he would lead an investigation into whether pilot error was a factor.

The last similar collision with a bridge was a decade ago at the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, which connects Contra Costa and Solano counties, Moloney said.

The birds most at risk are pelicans and cormorants, said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis, who said that sea lions are also at risk. Bay Institute scientist Tina Swanson said rare longfin smelt are swimming near the water’s surface around the Bay Bridge and could be affected. She said Chinook salmon and Pacific herring are also at risk.

“This is a reasonably sensitive time of the year when a number of species are moving into the bay for spawning or migration,” Swanson said.

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