The U.S. Coast Guard has called responders from the Pacific Northwest to help deal with leaking oil aboard a cargo ship moored in Valdez, which helped fuel a small deck fire Friday.
According to Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Allie Ferko with Marine Safety Unit Valdez, the 454-foot cargo ship BBC Arizona remains moored at the Valdez Container Terminal.
The ship is under a Captain of the Port order to remain in Valdez as cleanup efforts continue. Members of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Strike Team -- a response group capable of everything from oil-spill response to public affairs -- are heading for Valdez from Novato, Calif.
“The response is a little complex -- it’s expanding past a couple days,” Ferko said.
According to a Saturday statement, the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged BBC Arizona was carrying a cargo of steel I-beams from Qinhuangdao, China, as well as electrical transformers and their accessories. Ferko says multiple bladders of transformer oil -- essentially mineral oil with some additives, lighter and less flammable than crude oil -- inside some of the 30 containers aboard the ship began to leak, prompting workers to put down sawdust to absorb the oil.
At about 11:45 a.m. Friday, workers were conducting “hot work” to release welds securing the I-beams to the deck for transit. According to Ferko, sparks from the welding work ignited the sawdust and oil, causing a small fire on deck.
“It was a garbage-can-fire size, maybe a little bigger,” Ferko said.
The fire was put out by crew members before the Valdez Fire Department could respond. Investigators tracked the fire back to the oil bladders, prompting efforts to decontaminate the ship.
The BBC Arizona’s owners, BBC Chartering and Logistics, contracted recovery work to oil-spill response firm Emerald Services Inc., which placed sorbent pads aboard the ship and blocked the ship’s scuppers. Ferko says it’s not clear how much of the ship’s 87,000 gallons of transformer oil has been spilled, but none has been detected in the water.
“Because it’s dripping, it’s more of a leak than an actual discharge,” Ferko said.
Ferko says cleanup efforts are aimed at getting the spilled transformer oil cleaned before the BBC Arizona leaves port for Venezuela, since the transformers and the oil are being transshipped there. Crew members are drafting a dispersal and decontamination plan, pending lab results on an oil sample that will determine how the cleanup will proceed.
Contact Chris Klint