Oil spill leads to fire, environmental cleanup aboard ship at Valdez


A small fire broke out aboard a general cargo ship after mineral oil spilled out of containers, triggering a two-week environmental response at a Valdez, Alaska, dock.

The owner of the 456-foot BBC Arizona was cited for allegedly failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard about a hazardous condition aboard the ship. The proposed fine is $5,000.

The Coast Guard was first called to the vessel May 31, when a small fire started that was related to the spilled oil, said Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert, a Coast Guard spokesman in Anchorage.

“The crew noticed that some of the mineral oil was spilling onto the deck, so they put some sawdust down to try to absorb some of the oil,” Eggert said. “There was a welder doing some work there, and a spark from the welding lit up some of the sawdust. (The fire) was quickly put out by the crew of the vessel, and none of the product actually made it into the water.”

BBC Arizona, which sails under the flag of Antigua and Barbuda, was in Valdez because part of its load was Alaska-bound bridge-construction components. The containers of oil were destined for a later port-of-call in South America, said Petty Officer Greg Livingston, a damage controlman with the Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team.

In a statement, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said the incident occurred “right next to” the Valdez Duck Flats, an ecologically sensitive site. Initially, the spilled cargo was reported to be transformer oil, which is hazardous. Responders later discovered that it was a more benign oil, but the substance still needed to be removed properly.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Christopher DeHaven of Emerald Alaska Inc. sprays down one of the offloaded containers.

“They determined it was mineral oil, and it was organic,” Livingston said. “They had it contained on the ship, and the ship needed to be cleaned and the containers offloaded.”

BBC Arizona is owned by W. Bockstiegel Reederei of Emden, Germany. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment. Its U.S. representative in the incident response was Gallagher Marine Systems of Mount Laurel, N.J. Gallagher’s West Coast response services director, Chris Graff, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Eggert said investigators hadn’t yet made a specific determination of the cause as of July. He said there was some kind of breakage in multiple containers.

“The oil was being transported in huge bladders, like a giant canteen made of synthetic plastic material,” Eggert said. “The most likely scenario is the bladders somehow failed. Maybe they somehow tore.”

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

An environmental response crew finishes the deployment of a temporary decontamination and containment site on the pier next to BBC Arizona. Each container was placed within the 30-foot-by-100-foot containment area for processing and cleansing.

The environmental cleanup project also involved Emerald Alaska Inc., Alaska Chadux, North Star Terminal & Stevedore Co. and the Port of Valdez. The first week of the response concentrated on environmental mitigation and building the decontamination area alongside the dock, Livingston said. A two-person jon boat was used to tend boom that had been placed around the ship as a precaution. During the second week, the containers were removed, emptied of all cargo and cleaned.

“They wrapped each container up in plastic, so when they transferred the containers across the dock, nothing would spill in the water,” Livingston said. “They put the oil in a frac tank and cleaned off all the containers.”

The project was finished on June 14, he said, and BBC Arizona was cleared to depart for its scheduled southbound voyage.  

By Professional Mariner Staff