We still haven't learned.
A 752-foot oil tanker collided Monday with a tower of the Bay Bridge. None of the thousands of gallons of bunker fuel on board the Overseas Reymar leaked out. But that was because of luck, not because of lessons learned from a similar Bay Bridge collision five years ago when the Cosco Busan cargo ship hit an adjacent tower, spilling 53,000 gallons fuel into the bay.
The Coast Guard, state regulators and lawmakers, and the oil industry just don't seem to get it. Some of the same questions raised in the aftermath of the Cosco Busan fiasco surfaced again this week:
Why was the ship sailing in heavy fog? Why didn't emergency response crews deploy booms to control possible oil spills until hours after the accident? Why was the ship so close to the tower? Did Coast Guard officials who track ships on radar warn the crew? And what about the pilot, who, in this case, was working after at least three other shipping accidents since 2009?
The ship that struck the bridge tower Monday was nearly the size of the infamous Exxon Valdez, which hit a reef in 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. A similar accident here involving a fully loaded vessel could destroy the ecosystem of the bay for years, costing the regional economy billions of dollars.
To put it in perspective, the Overseas Reymar is as long as a 75-story office building is tall. Oil tankers delivering crude oil to refineries along the Contra Costa shoreline are as wide as 10 lanes of a freeway and can take a mile or more to stop.
Fortunately, the ship's oil had been offloaded the night before; it didn't hit the tower head on; and its fuel tanks weren't ruptured. This could have been a disaster. Just look at photos of the gash and scrapes in the side of the ship to understand how close we came.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard will coordinate an investigation into Monday's incident. The probe must be thorough and prompt. But that's not enough.
We expect state legislators and congressional representatives to conduct their own inquiries, and to pass meaningful laws that responsibly address the huge risk and minimize chances of another accident. We also expect Gov. Jerry Brown to show leadership where his predecessor failed.
In the aftermath of the Cosco Busan spill, Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed bills that would have required cleanup crews to respond to oil spills in the bay in two hours rather than six; raised fees on oil companies to expand the state's oil spill oversight; and required all large ships being filled with bunker fuel in the bay to be surrounded by floating protective boom before filling starts. Those laws would have been just a start.
We got lucky Monday. We can't keep gambling with the Bay Area's ecology and economy.