PALMETTO – The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) continues to investigate the source of an Aug. 31 oil spill at SeaPort Manatee.
As of Sept. 8, the Coast Guard reported about 19,000 gallons of an oil/water mixture had been removed and 6.4 tons of oily debris was disposed of from the port’s inner basin.
USCG Sector St. Petersburg’s Response Department was notified on Aug. 31 through the National Response Center that there was a visible discoloration of the water at the Manatee County-owned seaport located on Tampa Bay.
“A commercial oil response company has been hired,” USCG Sector Commander Capt. Mike Kahle said on Sept. 1. “They’re applying a boom around the oil. It appears to be contained.” To date, 97% of the oil has been removed from the surface of the water, according to Kahle, who said he expected cleanup efforts to be completed by Sept. 10.
On Sept. 8, Congressman Vern Buchanan toured SeaPort Manatee. He was joined by SeaPort Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras and Kahle.
“Our local waterways, environment and marine life are incredibly important to area residents and Florida’s tourism-based economy,” Buchanan said. “With no evidence pointing to any infrastructure failures or pipeline leaks so far, it looks increasingly likely that someone may have dumped this oil and is failing to come forward. Whether an accident or purposeful, any potential bad actors must be held accountable for putting our waterways at risk.”
According to Kahle, about 19,000 gallons of contaminated water were cleaned up from the port. Of that, approximately 3,500 gallons were heavy, unrefined oil.
“It’s still too early to define where exactly that heavy fuel came from, because we don’t handle a lot of heavy fuel,” Buqueras said.
“Since Aug. 31, SeaPort Manatee’s team has been proactively collaborating with the Coast Guard to assist in response activities,” Buqueras wrote in a Sept. 7 statement. “The Coast Guard has inspected every area of the port, yet to date has been unable to identify the origin of the material.
“Preserving the environment is among our top priorities, which is why we have fully continued partnering with the Coast Guard,” Buqueras wrote. “We have also encouraged tenant businesses at the port to cooperate with the Coast Guard.”
“NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) experts conducted an endangered species analysis of the impacted area and reported no fish or wildlife is affected at this time,” according to a Sept. 6 USCG report.
Due to its location in SeaPort Manatee, the U.S. Coast Guard assumed jurisdiction for the incident, according to Department of Environmental Protection Press Secretary Brian Miller.
According to the Coast Guard’s Facebook page, on Sept. 1, 4,500 gallons of oil/water were removed overnight and an additional 3,000 gallons removed the following day. On Sept. 2, the following was posted: “7,200 gallons of oil/water mixture was removed from the spill Sunday, including a large amount of oil debris. The source and responsible party are under investigation. Clean up operations will continue until we are sure the oil is removed.”
The following day, the Coast Guard reported 4,400 gallons of the oil/water mixture were removed, and stated, “Investigators are sending oil samples to be type-tested to assist in the investigation into the source and responsible party.”
According to that Sept. 3 post, 90-95% of the surface oil had been removed, ship’s hulls were 39-43% cleaned from the oil, and 6.4 tons of oily debris had been removed.
The Coast Guard reported on Sept. 6 that additional samples were taken from three vessels and two pipeline companies for analysis to try to find a match to the spilled oil.