Barge spills oil into Sound

EDMONDS — A harbor seal was the first and only reported wildlife casualty Tuesday from a 6,000-gallon fuel oil spill that occurred just after midnight at the Chevron Texaco Terminal at Point Wells.

Cleanup crews were dispatched during the first daylight hours in attempt to recover the 4,800 gallons of No. 6 bunker fuel oil that entered Puget Sound.

About 1,200 gallons that spilled fell into a containment system that’s in place for that specific purpose, said Joe Langjahr, a spokesman for Foss Maritime, the company that owns the barge that spilled the oil.

The spill happened when the barge was overfilled, Langjahr said. The barge was being filled for a trip to Tacoma.

"As soon as the tanker man realized there was a problem, he shut down the operation immediately," Langjahr said. "We had a boom in the water within minutes of the spill."

The Coast Guard, Department of Ecology and Foss will investigate the exact cause of the spill and determine liability after the oil is cleaned up.

"We’re cooperating fully with the agencies investigating the cause of the spill," Langjahr said. "Liability is something we’re going to deal with later. It sounds trite to say it, but right now we’ve got an environment to clean up."

Crews are expected to hit the water at daylight today.

Foss Maritime is a Seattle-based company that provides a variety of marine transportation services up and down the West Coast. The Chevron-Texaco plant provides the oil that Foss was responsible for transporting.

Langjahr said Tuesday’s was Foss’ first spill this year while a barge was being filled, but he did not know when the company’s last spill occurred.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Kurt Fredrickson said the spill of bunker oil was reported about 12:15 a.m.

Coast Guard pollution investigators were on the scene with officials from the state Ecology Department. Clean up crews have been hired from three companies: Foss Environmental, Marine Spill Response and Clean Sound.

Tuesday’s currents took the oil south of Point Wells, toward north Seattle and Shoreline, Langjahr said. Winds expected today should push the oil back to the north, he added.

Nearly 250 people were involved in the cleanup, which included 18 vessels, including 14 skimmers by day’s end, Langjahr said. Crews have set up 8,000 feet of boom and have 12,000 more feet available. The cleanup efforts were being scaled back as darkness fell around 5 p.m.

In addition to the harbor seal that died, a seagull was oiled and was recovering early Tuesday evening, Langjahr said.

Workers from the International Bird Rescue Group and PAWS are involved in the wildlife rescue process.

Ecology and Foss have environmental crews assessing the danger to wildlife, Langjahr said. Those experts will decide if there is a need to set up some "hazing," which are measures taken to keep wildlife away from the spill.

No. 6 bunker oil is a semi-refined oil that is typically used to power steam engines, ships and furnaces.

The most viscous No. 6 oils will often break up into patches and tarballs when spilled instead of forming slicks, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This can make oil recovery by skimmers and vacuum pumps very effective early in the spill.

The NOAA says direct mortality rates can be high for seabirds, waterfowl and fur-bearing marine animals, especially where populations are concentrated in small areas, such as during bird migrations or at marine mammal haulouts.

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or

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