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Fined for Oil Spill

The owner of a 24-passenger cruise ship faces a $15,500 Washington Dept of Ecology fine for an oil spill earlier this year into Sinclair Inlet. In related actions — separate from the penalty — Ecology assessed more than $20,000 in state spill-response costs and damage to natural resources.

The 157-foot Mist Cove released an estimated 456 gallons of diesel fuel while moored in downtown Port Orchard at the Port Orchard Railway Marina on March 8, 2010. The spill occurred when the ship’s senior engineer attempted to transfer oil between two tanks on board the vessel.

The ship belongs to The Boat Company, based in Poulsbo. The company’s policies require the involvement of at least two crewmembers in a fuel transfer, one to watch for spills, leaks, or overflows. The senior engineer was alone aboard the Mist Cove at the time of the incident.

Ecology’s follow-up investigation determined that oil overflowed because of an open valve. Investigators also learned the chief engineer failed to conduct a pre-transfer check — required in company policies — to ensure proper settings on all valves.

A person at the marina noticed the spill in progress and alerted the engineer aboard the Mist Cove. Oil was flowing into the water off the deck, visible in the water past the bow and stern.

“Unfortunately, many spills result from problems with fuel transfers. These are serious undertakings and should be treated as such,” said David Byers, Ecology’s spill-response supervisor. “With proper staffing to watch for a spill, a crew can stop the pumps right away. Instead, by the time someone else discovered this spill most of the oil was in the water and was too spread out to recover.”

Following its investigation into the spill, Ecology recommended that The Boat Company ensure better adherence to its fuel transfer procedures. The company informed Ecology that it conducted fuel-transfer training for its crews and will provide annual refreshers. The company also agreed to technical recommendations to ensure that crews can accurately track fuel levels in vessel tanks.

“We are sorry for the spill but accidents do happen and we responded quickly and effectively to minimize the damage,” said Hunter McIntosh, The Boat Company’s Chief Operating Officer. “As a nonprofit conservation organization that has run conservation education cruises in the waters of Southeast Alaska for the past 30 years, we will continue working diligently to protect and preserve the natural world around us. We have put in place further safeguards so that this never happens again.”

The Boat Company may appeal the penalty to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days. Ecology also billed The Boat Company $4,755.51 to recover the state’s costs for conducting the spill cleanup.

In a separate action, Ecology (acting on behalf of all state natural resource agencies) issued a $15,788.47 assessment for damage caused by the spill to the public’s environmental resources. The assessment is based on the amount spilled and the resources it placed at risk.

The spill left pockets of recoverable oil from the Port Orchard Railway Marina to the Port Orchard Marina. Sheen — a thin coating of oil on the water, only molecules thick — reached the middle of Sinclair Inlet. The oil dissipated over the next day.

There were no reports of wildlife injured or killed. However, all oil products are toxic to the marine environment.

The affected area has eelgrass beds, salt marsh and beaches where small fish spawn. At that time of year juvenile salmon, including threatened Puget Sound Chinook, use the area to feed. Sinclair Inlet attracts waterfowl, shorebirds and marine birds, including the threatened Marbled Murrelet.

Spill penalties and natural resource damage assessments fund grants for environmental restoration projects in Washington.

Prevention, preparedness, and response to fuel and other oil spills are parts of Ecology’s commitment to protect against toxic threats to people and the environment and to meet the state’s goal of protecting and restoring Puget Sound by 2020.

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