State and local officials were left wondering what exactly went wrong in the wake of a 58,000 gallon oil spill in San Francisco Bay - the largest such spill since 1988 - this past Wednesday. The Cosco Busan, a South Korea-bound container ship, struck one of the Bay Bridge's steel and concrete buttresses Wednesday morning as it was being guided out; the impact gouged the hull, precipitating the massive spill.
The U.S. Coast Guard has come under heavy criticism for initially underestimating the size of the spill, describing it early on as a 140 gallon fuel leak; the estimate was quickly revised on Thursday morning to a hefty 60,000 gallons. Officials are now worried about the impact the fuel slick will have on surrounding beaches and the local wildlife, including shorebirds, seals and other marine organisms. "The effects of the oil spill could persist for months and possibly years," said Tina Swanson, a fish biologist affiliated with the Bay Institute. According to the latest estimates, hundreds of birds have already been caught by the spreading slick, with thousands more likely to come as it continues moving out to sea - some oil having already been sighted 15 miles north of San Francisco.
Though Coast Guard officials have so far been able to collect close to 10,000 gallons of the spilled oil, they fear the slicks could yet reach more sites. It has already soiled at least nine beaches and parks in the area. "This is a significant event. This is one we're very concerned about," said Steve Edinger, assistant chief for the California Department of Fish and Game.