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Fishermen Must Clarify Harm From SF Bay Spill

(CN) - A federal judge in San Francisco told commercial fishermen and seafood processors to specify how their businesses were harmed last year when the Dubai Star spilled bunker oil in the San Francisco Bay.

Three fishermen and a seafood processor had filed a class action against Pioneer Ship Management Services, the Dubai Star's owner and operator, claiming its negligence led to an oil spill on Oct. 30, 2009.

They said the operator failed to follow the "best practices" when fueling the boat, causing a "substantial amount" of bunker oil to leak into the bay.

Used in the ship's main engines, bunker oil is "an extremely toxic substance" that is "classified as carcinogenic, harmful, and dangerous for the environment," according to the lawsuit.

Bunker oil "is significantly more toxic to marine life than the crude oil that was spilled in the Exxon Valdez case," because it's heavier and sticks more to animals' fur and feathers, the class action states.

Fishermen and seafood processors said their profits from Dungeness crabs, flat fish and herring took a hit from the oil spill.

Pioneer should have put oil spill booms around the ship before fueling and only used the booms after bunker oil spilled into the bay, the plaintiffs claimed.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston granted Pioneer's motion to dismiss all seven causes of action, but said the plaintiffs could amend their complaint to specify how the spill had affected their profits.

Illston acknowledged had several elements of a public nuisance, but said the plaintiffs failed to link Pioneer to their lost profits when they sued the day of the spill.

"Although the court doubts that plaintiffs will be able to remedy this defect, given that they filed the complaint on the very same day as the spill, the court will grant plaintiffs leave to amend," Illston wrote.

She also refused to bar Pioneer from fueling ships in the bay without first deploying oil spill booms and forcing it to set aside money to implement and train crews on the "best fueling practices."

"Plaintiffs cite no authority in support of this cause of action," she wrote.

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