SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The district attorneys of two Bay Area counties filed suit Tuesday against the owners of the vessel Dubai Star, seeking damages for a 2009 fuel spill into San Francisco Bay.
In October 2009, the vessel spilled 422 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay during refueling operations. A valve broke and the ship’s crew failed to properly monitor what was going on or react quickly enough to prevent a fuel tank from overflowing, the complaint says.
“The oil from the spill caused injuries to natural resources at sea and along the shore, including injuries to birds and fish, harm to various intertidal, subtidal and shoreline habitats, and adverse impacts on recreational uses of such resources in and around the San Francisco Bay,” the lawsuit reads.
Filed in superior court, the complaint names South Harmony Shipping Inc. and Pioneer Ship Management Services LLC, both based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and seeks damages for the harm the fuel did to the marine environment.
However, the Dubai Star spill is small compared to a 2007 incident in which the Cosco Busan ran into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, dumping 53,000 gallons into the bay. That collision has resulted in numerous state and federal actions.
George Gascon, the district attorney for the City and County of San Francisco, joined Nancy O’Malley, who holds the same position in Alameda County, to make their claims against the Dubai Star’s owners on behalf of the State of California. The prosecutors say that the spill could have been less severe if the Dubai Star’s master had responded appropriately.
The master, who was asleep at the time of the accident, was notified at 6:15 a.m. of the spill, but failed to notify government authorities until nearly a half hour later.
When he did make a report to the bay’s Vessel Traffic Services, he understated the severity of the spill by reporting that there was a “little bit” of oil had spilled onto the “deck only,” and “nothing is going overboard.”
The prosecutors claim that without court intervention, the ship owners will continue to engage in unsafe practices that “threaten to cause injury and harm to plants, animals and their habitats, to natural resources, and to recreational use of California’s lands and waters.
The complaint seeks damages, penalties and injunctive relief under California’s Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act, as well as a Fish and Game statute.
In a related 2009 federal class action, commercial fishermen together with a seafood processing company sued the owners of the Dubai Star for $10 million in lost profits. The action was dismissed in 2010 by a judge who said the plaintiffs had failed to link the ship’s owners to their lost profits.