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BARGE MORRIS J. BERMAN; San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico | 1994-Jan-07

Initial Notification: On January 7, 1994, the barge Morris J. Berman went aground in the surf zone off Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The barge grounded on a hard bottom consisting of rocky substrate with scattered coral after its towing cable parted. The barge had a capacity of three million gallons but was reportedly only half full. The cargo, a heavy #6 fuel oil, began spilling and impacted nearby shoreline and shallow intertidal habitats immediately. No estimated leakage rate was available. Due to strong northerly winds, the surf at the grounding site was quite strong creating a hazardous situation as they pounded the deck of the vessel. The responsible party initially assumed responsibility for the spill, but very quickly expended the ten million dollar limit of their insurance policy. Full federal funding of the spill occurred at 0600 on January 14 and it became a United States Coast Guard (USCG) directed response. The USCG Gulf Strike Team (GST) was brought onscene and immediately began lightering operations for the barge. Skimming and lightering operations were effective and removed an estimated 17,700 barrels of oil from the water and leaking barge. Shoreline cleanup and assessment began almost immediately. Little progress was made however due to continued leaking of fresh oil from the barge. Cleaned areas became re-oiled and areas not yet cleaned became more heavily impacted. Protection strategies were employed for areas at risk that were not yet oiled. Intensive shoreline cleanup was postponed for the most heavily impacted areas until the sources of re-oiling could be stopped. Two shallow lagoons near the grounding site were most heavily impacted. Oil, in the form of large mats, accumulated on the surface and on the bottom of the lagoons. Submerged oil posed a major cleanup problem during the response. It was eventually partially removed by divers, vacuum transfer units, and a dredge. Waste and oily water from dredging operations were collected and separated in a series of swimming pools arranged to decant and filter the effluent from the dredge before returning the filtered water to the sea. On January 15, the barge was refloated, towed to a scuttling site 20 miles northeast of San Juan, and sunk. This operation was carefully reviewed by the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC), Navy Superintendent of Salvage (SUPSALV), the GST, and NOAA. The Regional Response Team (RRT) was consulted and on-scene trustee representatives were given an opportunity to discuss the operation and voice their concerns. It was agreed by all that the sinking of the barge was the best alternative. Continued re-oiling of the nearshore environment from the unrecoverable oil left onboard was delaying cleanup and preventing resource recovery. Resource concerns offshore were minimal and it was hoped that the amount of residual oil left on the barge when it sank would be small and have little impact. Shorelines at risk from any oil released during the scuttling operations were predicted to be on northwestern Puerto Rico, Mona Island, and Hispaniola. Shoreline cleaning continued in earnest and was more successful with the barge removed. Surface and buried oil along sand beaches was removed following cleanup guidelines. Beachrock, riprap, and seawalls were cleaned with pressure washing and chemical cleaners as approved. Some inaccessible areas were left to clean naturally. Cleanup guidelines for oiled historical structures were developed and approved by trustees through the Heritage Resource Team. These structures and resources were then cleaned according to those guidelines. On February 3, oil impacts along northwestern Puerto Rico were reported. A convergence zone at the northwest corner of the island concentrated debris and oil still being released from the scuttled barge. Impacts were primarily along 12 miles of shoreline, from Isabella to Borinquen. This oil was buried as oily sand layers and submerged as oil and sand mats in the protected areas or crenulate bays. A separate command post was established on the west end of the island and assessments and cleanup operations began immediately. Crews removed the stranded oil quickly to prevent additional burial. Cleanup efforts were intensified in this area to minimize risks to nesting sea turtles, whose arrival was imminent. All necessary cleanup guidelines and inspection criteria were in place by mid-February. With the exception of nearshore reef fish and benthic organisms near the barge's grounding site, there were very few impacts to biological resources. Seagrasses were oiled near the grounding site. Very few birds were affected and no substantiated reports of spill related mortalities to reptiles or mammals were received. The impacted shoreline was divided into 18 shoreline segments or zones. Most of these zones were cleaned and inspected following the "how clean is clean" guidelines, and approved by the FOSC by April 4. All other zones were signed off by April 25, with the exception of zone 18, which was completed on May 27. Once approved as clean, each zone entered a monitoring and maintenance phase to address any additional oiling that may occur. USCG district 7. Keyword: endangered species, bioremediation.

Incident Details
Products of concern:# 6 fuel oil
Latitude (approximate): 18° 28.30′ North
Longitude (approximate): 66° 5.40′ West
On-Water Recovery: Unknown/Not applicable
Shoreline Cleanup: Unknown/Not applicable
Dispersants: Applied
In-Situ Burn: Unknown/Not applicable
Bioremediation: Unknown/Not applicable