Coast Guard issues subpoenas in Puget Sound oil spill

Oct 19, 2004 02:00 AM

Subpoenas have been served in the search for the culprit behind a Puget Sound oil spill of at least 1,000 gallons that has cost more than $ 1 mm in cleanup expenses. Crews worked to conclude beach cleanup as investigators awaited test results on oil samples from ships, said Larry Altose, a state Ecology Department spokesman at the spill response centre that includes his agency and the Coast Guard.
"Its safe to say the investigation is not on the verge of finding the responsible party," Altose told.

The Coast Guard has issued subpoenas to individuals, vessels and one facility concerning the heavy-grade fuel oil spill, which has contaminated 21 miles of shoreline from the Key Peninsula and Tacoma to parts of Vashon and Maury Island. Investigators also were trying to determine how much oil was released in Dalco Passage between Tacoma and the south end of Vashon Island.
Coast Guard inspectors in Alaska boarded four vessels, including two container ships that arrived in Anchorage. A South Korea-bound container ship was required to make an unscheduled stop to give a sample in Dutch Harbour, an oil tanker that arrived in Valdez also was checked and bunker fuel samples were provided by two tug and barge companies, maritime officials told.

Taking samples from a wide range of vessels is common in such cases "so you can either rule them in or rule them out," said Wayne Gronlund, manages of a Coast Guard laboratory in Groton, Connecticut, where some of the samples were sent.
A final analysis to try to pinpoint the source of the spill was planned at a joint Environmental Protection Agency-Ecology Department lab at Manchester. At a community meeting about 200 Vashon residents grilled Coast Guard and state officials about cleanup delays, some suggesting the island community should form its own emergency response crews.
"I bet half the people in this room would get haz-mat trained if that's what it took," said Vashon resident Pam Wise-Lolley. "We feel so helpless."

Coast Guard and Ecology officials have said the deployment of booms and skimmers was delayed for hours because of foggy weather that prevented the use of helicopters to determine the precise location and extent of the spill.
Few contaminated wildlife has been found. A lightly oiled seal pup died of the contamination after being found on a beach in Tacoma. The only oiled bird to be found, a grebe, was recovering at a shelter. Coast Guard officials have refused to divulge how many oil samples were being tested.

A senior Coast Guard official said about a dozen ships had been in the area and the investigation was focusing on two, but the agency said the probe "has not narrowed in scope to any specific vessels or facilities at this time."
Altose called 1,000 gallons a "very rough preliminary estimate" based on the initial oil recovery. Skimmers have recovered 5,919 gallons of oily water, which probably contains a few hundred gallons of oil, as well as 6.2 tons of seaweed, driftwood and other debris from oil-fouled beaches.

Also to be analysed is oil contained within booms. Some oil dissipated into the environment, "not a satisfactory outcome, but that's a reality of what happens in a spill," Altose said.
State penalties can reach as high as $ 100,000 for each day of contamination and the federal government could seek to recover triple the cost of the cleanup, he said.

Source: Associated Press
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