Much can go wrong in San Francisco Bay.
Despite Bay Area News Group reporter Paul Rogers' years documenting ship mishaps, lawmakers have failed to adequately protect residents and the environment from potential calamity.
Thousands of container and tanker ships enter the bay annually, navigating narrow, sometimes shallow channels. We're talking about vessels as long as a 60- to 90-story office building is tall, wide as an 8- to 10-lane freeway, weighing tens of thousands of tons and needing more than a mile to stop.
Repeatedly, we've barely averted disaster. For example: In 1988, the Arco Juneau oil tanker slammed into the Carquinez Bridge, ripping a 100-foot-long gash in the hull. The ship's cargo had just been offloaded.
In 1995, the Mundogas Europe, carrying potentially deadly anhydrous ammonia, lost steering heading into San Francisco Bay. The ship came within 200 yards of the Golden Gate Bridge south tower. A rupture of the vessel's tanks would have led to mass evacuations. In 1996, the Cape Mohican, a military reserve ship, spilled 40,000 gallons of fuel oil into the bay. In 1998, the Jo Rogn chemical ship lost steering in the bay. Eight years earlier, it had spilled 12,843 gallons of a chemical used to make nail polish and plastics into the Delaware River, causing evacuation of homes, sending 10 people to the hospital and closing the Betsy Ross Bridge. In 2003, the Cefalonia tanker, carrying 27,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, the chemical used to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building, ran aground in mud near Pittsburg. In 2007, the Cosco Busan cargo ship sideswiped a Bay Bridge tower in dense fog, ripping a 211-foot-long gash in the vessel's side, dumping 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel, oiling 69 miles of shore and killing more than 6,500 birds. In 2009, the Dubai Star spilled 422 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay when a tank overflowed during refueling. The oil coated 10 miles of shore in Alameda County, closed Crown Beach for 25 days and killed an estimated 186 birds. In 2012, the Overseas Tampa, loaded with low-sulphur diesel, nearly ran aground departing Richmond, coming "very close to disaster," investigators concluded. On Monday, the Overseas Reymar, crossing under the same Bay Bridge section as the Cosco Busan five years earlier, collided with a tower in fog.
This handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard shows the damage to the pilings surrounding tower six of the San Francisco Bay Bridge after the 752-foot tanker Overseas Reymar collided with it, on January 7, 2013. The empty oil tanker caused minor damage Monday when it struck a tower in the middle of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while navigating beneath the hulking span, officials said. The Reymar rammed the tower about 11:20 a.m. PST as it headed out to sea, according to the Coast Guard and state transportation officials. It didn't affect traffic on the busy bridge, which is the main artery between San Francisco and Oakland, Ney said. OSG Ship Management Inc., which is the parent company that owns the Marshall Islands-registered ship, said the vessel hit an underwater portion of the massive bridge structure. Investigators had not yet determined the cause of the crash. There were no reports of pollution or structural damage to the bridge following the collision. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela J. BoehlandHO/AFP/Getty Images)
Amazingly, rules put in place after the Cosco Busan collision to restrict travel in fog were not applied near the bridge.
Amazingly, while oil tankers must be escorted by tugboat through the bay, there are no such requirements for ships carrying deadly chemicals.
Amazingly, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill requiring cleanup crews to respond to oil spills in the bay in two hours rather than six, and another requiring large ships being filled with bunker fuel to be surrounded by floating protective boom.
Monday's accident should serve as yet another wake-up call. We must be smart, we must be vigilant and we must be prepared. Unfortunately, we haven't been any of those things.