Feds detain oil-spill ship's crew

The U.S. Attorney’s Office launched a criminal probe into the ship’s crew of a massive Bay oil spill and the National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday it will conduct its own investigation.

Meanwhile, the entire crew of the Cosco Busan, which lost 58,000 gallons of oil into the Bay on Wednesday, is being detained on the ship for questioning, Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti said.

The 920-foot-long ship lost 5 percent of its fuel after it crashed into the Bay Bridge on Wednesday morning, causing a 100-foot gash in the hull. The extent of the spill wasn’t known by government agencies, including the Coast Guard, until the afternoon, when additional resources were scrambled to help contain and clean the oil, which has killed wildlife and shut down beaches.

The head of the Coast Guard on Sunday defended his agency’s response.

“On the surface, it would appear that we did everything by the book in this case as far as responding,’’ Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said.

Preliminary information suggests it took time to figure out the extent of the spill, Allen said, partly because sounding tubes used to measure how much fuel is in the oil tank were damaged in the crash. To accurately measure the extent of a spill officials must measure how much fuel is left in the tanks, he said.

Human error, heavy fog and communication breakdowns are considered factors in the accident, according to the Coast Guard.

A six-person investigation team from the NTSB was formed to figure out what caused the accident. “We’re going to look at the vessel itself, the conditions like the weather, and then we’ll be looking at the human factors,” board spokesman Peter Knudson said.

“We’ll look at the bridge as well as the communications between those on the vessel and the vessel traffic service. We’ll be looking at maintenance records and the training and history of the pilot,” Knudson said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein condemned communication breakdowns and hinted at increased federal control over ships as they move in and out of the Bay. “This is an incident, in my view, which should not have happened,” Feinstein said.

Acting San Francisco Mayor Bevan Dufty said the Coast Guard ignored The City’s offer of 150 trained cleanup workers. “They’re saying they don’t want untrained personnel on the beaches — but we’re offering them trained personnel,” Dufty said. “We have real concerns that our offers are not being taken up.”

AP contributed to this report.

jupton@examiner.com

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