Coast Guard: Overboard containers off San Francisco still a hazard

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(SAN FRANCISCO) — The Coast Guard urges caution to mariners for the ongoing recovery and monitoring operations for 12 containers that washed overboard from the cargo ship Manoa in heavy seas in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary west of the Golden Gate Bridge on Dec. 11.

As of Tuesday, Parker Diving Service recovered all the large container pieces as well as foam insulation from one of the lost containers that washed up along the shoreline of Baker Beach. Matson, the owner of Manoa, has deployed response crews at Baker Beach and Pacifica to recover plastic trays and related debris and is also conducting its own aircraft and vessel searches in the area. Additional air support has been requested from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Two of the 12 containers have been recovered and accounted for by Matson crews at Baker Beach and Pacifica Pier, respectively. Aside from the one container that broke up on Baker Beach, a second one, described as black with only a small portion visible, was reported floating Tuesday south of the Golden Gate Bridge. A third container was also reported Tuesday partially submerged one nautical mile south of the Pacifica Pier. However, salvage crews have been unsuccessful in locating containers in the area.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration is providing trajectory modeling, using wind and current information to predict the potential direction of the remaining lost containers. If modeling predicts landings on the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary shoreline, then Beach Watch volunteers can be mobilized to evaluate resource impacts. NOAA has additional staff ready if any containers wash up in the sanctuary and damage resources.

While the containers are not reported to contain any hazardous materials, debris from the contents, such as Styrofoam and plastic materials, pose hazards to marine and coastal wildlife through ingestion and entanglement. This incident is a reminder that while marine debris is an everyday problem, winter storms and ocean swells may increase the amount of debris entering the environment.

The sanctuary is also concerned about the impacts from the containers on ocean and coastal bottom habitats within the sanctuary, including potential crushing and smothering of slow moving or non-mobile invertebrates such as corals, sponges, sea pens, urchins and sea cucumbers. Containers that sink in rocky reef habitat can cause scarring and the physical removal of rock, thus removing shelter for reef species, including overfished rockfish. In the near-shore environment, these injuries can be more widespread due to wave action, causing these containers to roll across the rocky substrate.

The Coast Guard is working with NOAA, the state of California, the National Park Service and the city of San Francisco to ensure the safe and effective removal of the containers from the marine environment.

The cause of the incident is under investigation.

To report sightings of the containers, call the Coast Guard Sector San Francisco Command Center at (415) 399-7300.

For all inquiries concerning Matson, call Keoni Wagner, public information officer, at 510-628-4534.

By Professional Mariner Staff