Coast Guard shunned fire aid

The federal response after ship fuel spilled into the Bay from the Cosco Busan was compared Tuesday by some city officials with the response to floods after Hurricane Katrina.

With a congressional hearing into the accident expected next week, Port of San Francisco commissioners became the latest city officials to lambaste the U.S. Coast Guard for its dawdled reaction to the spill, which environmental groups say will damagethe Bay for years to come.

Commissioners during their monthly meeting Tuesday called for greater local control and coordination during Bay disasters.

Port Executive Director Monique Moyer told commissioners that a San Francisco Fire Department boat headed out to the Bay to help the Chinese container ship after it clipped the Bay Bridge on Wednesday, but was immediately ordered back to land by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s decision to turn the fire boat around “may or may not” have affected how the spill was handled, said Moyer. Heavy morning fog at the time of the accident forced the Coast Guard to rely on those aboard the damaged ship for an initial fuel-spill estimate. The City relied on the Coast Guard for its information.

Moyer said she first found out about the spill “by smelling it,” and that she received information later in the morning from the Coast Guard that 140 gallons of fuel had spilt into the Bay. After night fell, the figure was updated to 58,000 gallons, she said.

Moyer told commissioners Tuesday the Coast Guard still had not accepted the Port’s offer of more than 20 trained and qualified staff who could respond to the accident.

“The federal government is supposed to take action,” Commissioner Michael Hardeman said after he heard Moyer’s report. “But we see the actions the federal government has taken — such as Katrina.”

Hardeman described the federal response as “dinosaurish” and “crazy,” and said Bay Area ports should work together to assess and respond to future crises.

“We have fire boats, we have police boats, we have sheriff boats that can all be adapted to do something in an emergency, instead of sitting around and waiting for 24 hours and getting bad information,” Hardeman said. “I find it unacceptable that each Port wasn’t out there with a boat and with some sort of monitoring equipment.”

Other commissioners appeared to support Hardeman’s push to form a team to reevaluate local port responsibilities during Bay accidents, but no votes were cast.

Such a vote might be held in December, spokeswoman Renee Dunn said.

jupton@examiner.com

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