A foreign cargo ship with containers oozing oil from China is being held by the Coast Guard at the Port of Valdez until the leaks can be stopped and the chemical composition of the oil determined.
The leaking oil, for insulating and cooling transformers, is part of a shipment destined for Venezuela that also includes transformers, Coast Guard Lt. Allie Ferko said Tuesday from Valdez. The ship, the BBC Arizona, stopped in Valdez to deliver steel I-beams.
The oil leak only came to the attention of American officials because the I-beams were welded to the ship’s deck for transit, and sparks from the cutting torch used to free them set a small fire in sawdust soaked with oil, Ferko said.
The oil on the ship’s deck is being sopped up by pads and sucked up by a vacuum truck. Response crews recovered about 3,000 gallons of oily water from the deck as of Tuesday afternoon, the Coast Guard said later that night. Emerald Services Inc., an oil-spill response company hired by the ship’s owner, also deployed boom in the water around the ship as a precaution. No oily water from the ship has been seen in the water at Port Valdez, though rain falling in Valdez complicates the situation, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard issued the BBC Arizona a notice of discrepancy under international maritime pollution rules for failing to report the leaky containers, Ferko said. Such notices for foreign vessels are resolved in their flag state, she said. In the case of the BBC Arizona, that’s the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
The BBC Arizona, operated by BBC Chartering and Logistics, arrived in Valdez on May 28. It’s listed on the BBC Chartering web site as 454 feet long with two cranes on board. The manifest says it has a crew of 14. Its last port of call was Qinhuangdao, China, the Coast Guard said.
The ship is carrying about 30 metal containers, and Emerald Services estimated that 16 held flexible, plastic bladders containing transformer oil, a highly refined mineral oil, according to the Coast Guard. Each bladder could hold about 6,000 gallons of the product, based on the container dimensions, the Coast Guard said Tuesday night.
“At some point during their transit from China to Valdez, those bladders and the containers started leaking, just kind of dripping out onto the deck of the ship,” Ferko said.
Not all are leaking. With the Coast Guard monitoring the process, Emerald opened two of the non-leaky containers to determine their internal configuration and found each held one plastic bladder spanning two-thirds of the internal space.
At port in Valdez on Friday, the crew was working to offload the beams — until the sawdust the crew had spread over the oiled deck caught fire.
“It was a small fire, easily contained,” Ferko said. The crew was able to extinguish it but also called the local fire department. “Of course, anytime there is a fire aboard a ship, the Coast Guard is going to investigate and that’s when we discovered that it was leaking.”
The cargo can’t be taken off until the leaks are resolved, the Coast Guard said.
Contractors are still working on how to stop the oozing, and prevent it from happening again, the Coast Guard said.
Emerald also sent samples of the oil from two containers to a laboratory in Anchorage to determine its composition, Ferko said. Well into the 1970s, PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — were used in transformers in the United States but the material was banned here in 1979 because of its toxicity.
Lab results indicated the samples contained no PCBs, the Coast Guard said Tuesday night.
All containers will be inspected and oil samples taken from each before clean-up can begin, the Coast Guard said.
Cmdr. Benjamin Hawkins, who also carries the title of captain of the port, Prince William Sound, has ordered the BBC Arizona to remain at the Valdez Container Terminal until the oil properties are determined, the leaks are repaired and the ship is decontaminated.
“Once the captain of the port is satisfied that all of those conditions are met, then they will be authorized to depart,” Ferko said.
The Coast Guard in Valdez requested help from a Coast Guard strike team based in Novato, Calif., that has expertise in cleanup. A crew was expected to arrive Tuesday night.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.