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Site Remediation News
January 1997 (Vol 9 No 1) - Article 03

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M/T Anitra Oil Spill
By: Rob Schrader
Division of Responsible Party Site Remediation
Discharge Response Element
Bureau of Emergency Response

On May 9, 1996, the Motor Tanker Anitra anchored in the Big Stone anchorage with its cargo of 41.9 million gallons of Nemba and Cabinda crude oils and prepared to lighter, or pump off, part of its cargo to a barge to enable the vessel to transit the thirty-five foot channel depth of the upper Delaware River. The anchorage is located in Delaware waters approximately ten and one half miles from Cape May, New Jersey. The vessel's draft was approxi-mately 58.7 feet and it had anchored in approximately 65 feet of water. An oil sheen was noticed around the vessel on arrival but shortly after, it disappeared. During the lightering operation, it is believed that the valves to the sea chest had been inadvertently left open or that designated ballast lines had cargo in them. When the pumps were started, an estimated 40,000 gallons of oil was pumped out of the bottom of the vessel via the sea chest.

On Saturday, May 11, 1996, United States Coast Guard officials on the scene spotted the oil on the water surface and immediately halted the operation. Large containment booms were deployed around the vessel to contain the oil. That evening, an intense squall swept through the area and caused the oil contained in the boom to escape.

To understand the nature of this spill, you need to know the particulars of the oils involved. The Nemba and Cabinda crude oil on the vessel originally had a specific gravity less than that of water, which would cause the oil to float. One theory is that once the oil made contact with the water, it apparently started to weather and the specific gravity became greater or equal to the receiving water. Therefore, some of the oil had floated, but apparently the majority did not, buffeting the sandy bottom as it was pumped from the vessel.

We know that submerged oil can form thick, continuous deposits that are hundreds of feet long, or widely scattered small tar balls. Where there is current activity, especially generated by surf, such as along our coastal beaches, the oil/sand mixture can form cigar-shaped "rollers" that can be scattered on the bottom or accumulate into mats. These rollers pick up sand and shell fragments as they move, making them heavier. Eventually they can be deposited on adjacent beaches after northeasters.

Another theory is that the oil remained liquid; initially it floated, but sank after picking up sand. In this scenario, the oil behaved very much like a conventional number 6 fuel at first, including rapid loss of the light fractions by evaporation, increase in viscosity. However, when the oil was transported into shallow water, it was more likely mixed temporarily through the water column by wave turbulence, due to its density greater than water.

On May 12, 1996, a Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife conservation officer discovered an oil fouled shoreline from Higbee Beach to just south of Sunset Beach, Cape May County. A responder was sent to Sunset Beach to make an initial assessment. After the assessment was made, the Bureau of Emergency Response and the United States Coast Guard from the Marine Safety Office in Philadelphia, along with a 70-person clean-up crew from the responsible party, converged on Sunset Beach to begin the tedious chore of cleaning up the oil. Separate staging areas were identified for both the waste and the equipment. To complicate matters, the oil had been buried in the coarse sand by the surf, and the arrival of migratory shore birds was imminent. In addition, the return of horseshoe crabs to lay their eggs on the beaches was threatened by the oil. It was imperative that the shoreline be cleaned as rapidly as possible. Because of the impending shorebird and horseshoe crab arrival, representatives from the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife's Endangered & Nongame Species Program were requested on scene. On the afternoon of Thursday, May 16, 1996, northeast winds began to blow as the clean-up contingent began to wrap up. At this point, oil had been cleaned from Town Bank to Cape May Point. Our target date for the clean up of that shoreline had been met.

It was on the morning of Friday, May 17, 1996, as clean-up operations were winding down, when it was learned that the northeast winds brought previously undiscovered submerged oil ashore on the beaches from Cape May Point to Atlantic City. What had appeared to be a relatively small spill of limited scope, became a large spill with extensive beach impacts on over 50 miles of coastline. This clean-up would require far greater resources. At this point, a structured command or Unified Command, consisting of the Coast Guard, NJ DEP and the responsible party, was formed. With assistance from the Boroughs of Stone Harbor and Avalon, a command post was established at the Stone Harbor Fire Department.

Immediately, shoreline assessment teams consisting of federal and state response personnel were formed and sent to assess the impacted beaches. Meanwhile, the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management began to convert the fire hall into a formal command post with a vast communications network, video capability and meeting rooms. Bird rehabilitation and cleaning stations were set up by Tri-State Bird Rescue and staffed with volunteers under direction of the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. Staging areas for equipment, waste, and health and safety were also set up and located along the coast. By the end of Friday night, over 150 people were cleaning the beaches. In the command post, 60 people planned the clean-up strategies and coordinated resources that were arriving around the clock.

DEP personnel from the Bureau of Emergency Response, Bureau of Field Operations, the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, and Office of Natural Resource Damages, as well as staff from the Nature Conservancy, converged in response to the spill. Governor Whitman and Commissioner Shinn, Jr. along with Assistant Commissioner Gimello, mayors and various representatives from the local and county governments, all met with the Unified Command on the beach in Avalon. On site, a briefing took place that explained the extent of the spill and our clean-up strategies.

Over the next week, more than 500 clean-up personnel, 50 boats, and several oil skimmers, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles were mobilized. County trucks and personnel, township personnel and equipment, and federal, state, county and local agencies worked together 20 hours a day to satisfactorily clean the beaches in time. By Friday, May 24, 1996, we had met our target date for the clean-up of the beaches, the Memorial Day weekend.

On Tuesday, May 28, 1996, northeast winds again brought undiscovered submerged oil ashore from Brigantine north to Long Beach Island. This oil, although intermittent and widely scattered, also required remediation, as it threatened the Holgate Wildlife Refuge areas. Another group of 150 clean-up personnel, along with federal, state, county and local agencies, worked 18-20 hours a day to satisfactorily clean the beaches for the next major beach weekend.

On July 9, 1996, the Anitra oil spill clean-up was brought to a successful conclusion. Representatives from the NJDEP Bureau of Emergency Response, the USCG, the responsible party representative Gallager Marine, and Prime Contractor S&D Environmental Services, inspected every beach from Town Bank on the Delaware Bay, around Cape May Point and north to Island Beach State Park. During this inspection, trenches were dug at the high water line and just below the tide line to ensure no oil had been buried by the tides. In the end, all agreed that the beaches were satisfactorily cleaned. The cost for the spill to date is approximately 5 million dollars. A total of 2,878 tons of waste was generated, (all) disposed at reclamation facilities.

The cooperation and assistance among the Department, federal agencies, local business, and motel and restaurant owners, was key to the successful conclusion. Without this cooperation, we could not have accomplished the process of cleaning the 90 miles of shoreline as quickly as we did.

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