Oil cleanup turns toward shores

Most of the shipping fuel from the Cosco Busan has become too thinly spread out to be cleaned off the surface of San Francisco Bay, leading crews to shift their efforts away from the open water and onto the shoreline.

By Monday, around one-fifth of the 58,000 gallons of fuel that gushed from the slashed hull of the Chinese container ship after it clipped the Bay Bridge on Wednesday had been recovered. Much of it was picked up by skimmers, which are connected to boats to collect oil from the water’s surface.

“We’re going to transfer our concentration from all these skimming operations,” U.S. Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti, who is coordinating operations, said Monday, “to actually getting the beaches cleaned up —because that’s where the oil is now.”

Cleanup of salt marshes, creek mouths, and other “environmentally sensitive” areas is being prioritized, according to Steve Edinger, assistant chief of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Fuel has spread north of Stinson Beach in Marin County and south to Hunters Point, according to the Coast Guard. More than 500 oiled grebes, cormorants, gulls, surf scoters and other shorebirds had been rescued by Monday afternoon, according to California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Rob Roberts, and more than 380 had died.

More than 750 trained staff Monday collected fuel from the coastline, authorities said, while more than 250 cleaned fuel from the surface of the Bay, including Raccoon Strait north of Angel Island. Untrained volunteers were ordered off beaches.

Removing fuel from piers, rocks and other hard surfaces sometimes requires high-pressure cleaning tools, according to Coast Guard Capt. David Swatland, who is helping coordinate operations.

Fuel has clung to piers around The City, leading long, buoyant booms to be laid around them. Those piers will not be scrubbed until more environmentally sensitive areas have been cleaned, according to Swatland.

Swatland said the cleanup could take “weeks to months,” meaning booms could ring dirty piers into the new year.

The environmental fallout from the spill could spell economic disaster for those who make a living from the multimillion-dollar herring and crab industries.

Herring and crab fishers have volunteered their boats and time to the cleanup operation. “This is where I make my living,” fisherman Ernie Koepf said.

The herring season is due to begin next month.Koepf said herring have just started to arrive in the Bay to spawn, and that eggs laid on oiled rocks will not survive.

The crab season, which was supposed to start this week, has been postponed, and a company near Point Reyes stopped harvesting its oysters.

jupton@examiner.com

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