Tesoro, shipper, settle with Alaska over 2006 grounding of tanker in Cook Inlet

By Dan Joling, AP
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Companies settle with Alaska over grounded tanker

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Tesoro Alaska Co. and a tanker corporation have agreed to pay the state nearly $430,000 to settle claims from the grounding of an oil tanker in ice-choked waters of Cook Inlet four years ago.

The Alaska attorney general’s office on Thursday announced the settlement with Tesoro and Seabulk Tankers Inc. over the grounding of the 575-foot Seabulk Pride on Feb. 2, 2006, near Nikiski on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

About 84 gallons of gasoline spilled into the inlet from a loading line. The vessel was carrying nearly 5 million gallons of petroleum products but its cargo tanks were not damaged.

The companies admitted no violations. A spokesman for Tesoro in San Antonio said the company regrets the incident occurred.

“We’re glad a fair settlement could be reached,” said Lynn Westfall, senior vice president of external affairs.

Alaska officials said Coast Guard rules for operating in heavy ice and Tesoro’s state approved Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan were violated.

“The state takes these types of pollution prevention violations very seriously,” Attorney General Dan Sullivan said in his announcement. “This settlement demonstrates our resolve to recover substantial civil assessments when those requirements are not met.”

The Seabulk Pride was taking on unleaded gasoline and a residual oil product when the incident occurred. The Nikiski Kenai Pipeline dock is parallel to the beach, and the tanker was moored parallel to the dock with the bow pointed south.

A Seabulk spokesman said four years ago that ice moving fast from the north with the incoming tide wedged itself between the dock and the vessel, parting mooring lines. The temperature was about 5 degrees below zero. The company said engines were operational but the crew could not control the untied tanker in the onrushing tide.

Gasoline from the loading lines spilled onto the ship’s deck and into Cook Inlet.

State officials said crew members could not start the vessel’s engine and it drifted about 200 yards before grounding on a beach. The ship’s hull was damaged.

The Coast Guard’s winter ice rules and Tesoro’s discharge contingency plan list requirements for operating in ice. According to state officials, there was no captain on the bridge, the engine room was unmanned, and operations were not in a state of immediate readiness.

Response tugs helped re-float the vessel a day later.

The $429,870 settlement, state officials said, represents an oil spill civil assessment of $5,000, civil assessments of $360,000 based on what Seabulk saved by not complying with the crew readiness requirements of Tesoro’s oil spill contingency plan, and $64,870 in reimbursement for the state response and investigation.

Tesoro also has agreed to produce a video costing at least $35,000 to train mariners in Cook Inlet on ice hazards.

In addition to the settlement, Tesoro has upgraded its Kenai Pipeline dock mooring line tension monitoring system, providing tankers at the dock with direct access to the tension data on dedicated laptops. The company has also stationed a specialty tug at the dock during winter ice conditions, state officials said.

Seabulk Tankers, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a subsidiary of Seacor Holdings Inc.

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