Stars and Stripes – Coast Guard investigating probable fuel spill off California coast where aging Navy tanker operated


The U.S. Navy Fleet Supply Ship USNS Henry J. Kaiser sails in a multinational formation during a photo exercise off the coast of Hawaii during Exercise Rim of the Pacific on August 21, 2020 (Jenna Dobsonian / US Navy)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) – The Coast Guard said it was investigating reports made last Saturday into two oily reflections off the coast of Point Loma and San Clemente Island, but did not not yet disclosed details of a possible source of the pollution.

The San Diego Coast Guard sector only recognized the possible spill off the island about 70 miles from shore until Wednesday evening. A whale-watching captain called the agency on Saturday to report a “giant” oily sheen spanning about 50 miles, and then posted a video on social media of dolphins swimming in the pollution.

“The Coast Guard takes all reports of pollution of the marine environment seriously,” Lt. Ryan Szabo, head of the incident management division, said in a press release after 7 p.m. Wednesday. “We thank all responsible citizens who reported these environmental issues in a timely manner.”

The Coast Guard confirmed over the weekend a spill of about 100 gallons of what was likely diesel fuel about 11 miles northwest of Point Loma. Authorities said a cleanup effort was not necessary as the spill would dissipate within a day.

Officials said they also contacted a Navy ship conducting training near San Clemente Island on Saturday to verify the reported outburst.

“Navy personnel have not reported any signs of shine in or around San Clemente Island,” officials said in a press release Wednesday.

USNS Henry J Kaiser, an aging tanker used for ongoing refueling training exercises, was operating in the Bright Zone last weekend, according to

Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian at Campbell University in North Carolina, said spills can occur during refueling training, where an oil tanker like the Kaiser transfers fuel and other supplies to nearby military ships.

“You’re pumping under high pressure, a large volume of fuel goes through, and it’s not uncommon for those large diameter hoses to rupture sometimes,” he said. “Henry Kaiser is also the oldest of the class. She’s almost 40 now, so she’s on the limit. “

Spills can also result from a cracked hull, as with a Navy cruiser from Norfolk, Va., Which recently lost fuel while attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

“That’s the other way you get fuel spills like that; all of a sudden you start to leak from a tank, ”said Mercogliano. “It’s a problem with older Navy ships. “

Navy officials have repeatedly denied any knowledge of the potential fuel spill off San Clemente Island.

© 2021 The Union-Tribune of San Diego


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