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Bay Bridge tanker crash raises new safety questions

January 10, 2013 7:07:21 PM PST
The tanker crash into the Bay Bridge Monday has exposed a broken radar relay and is also raising new questions about whether the Bay Bridge should be off limits to giant ships in heavy fog.

The top commander of the Coast Guard in this region tells ABC7 News they have examined the entire vessel and have interviewed all the crew members. Now they are just collecting the data, including why a beacon device on the bridge failed.

The Bay Bridge is not in what's called a "critical maneuvering area." This means even if visibility is poor, ships are allowed to navigate under the bridge. But that could change.

During its monthly meeting Thursday, the Harbor Safety Committee recommended forming a working group to study whether a new safety plan should be adopted for the bridge after Monday's accident when a tanker sideswiped one of its towers. That could mean reducing the number of vessels in the bay when visibility is low. That would likely affect the transportation of goods.

"All of you go to Safeway to shop for bananas and realize that the United States doesn't grow bananas, so how do we get them there? So we want to keep the commerce flowing. But with that said, we want to be very, very cautious," said Harbor Safety Committee Chairman Lynn Korwatch.

The last time the plan was reviewed was five years ago, following the Cosco Busan accident, when 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled into the bay.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is also investigating whether a faulty beacon may have played a role in Monday's accident.

A racon radar beacon is a navigation aid, meant to help a ship get through the Bay Bridge. There are three attached to the bridge. One of them was not working when the oil tanker "Overseas Reymar" hit one of the towers.

"It was reported to the Coast Guard after the casualty that the one racon was not working properly," said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Cynthia Stowe.

But the Coast Guard also clarified the troubled racon is located along the Charlie Delta span, which is not where the tanker crossed. The Overseas Raymar crossed between two other support towers.

When asked if that could have been the cause Stowe answered, "It's really hard to say, there are a lot of factors that we need to look at as we look through the casually investigation. It is certainly one factor that is important and we will look into very seriously."

The vessel also relies on other navigational tools to help guide it.

Pete McIsaac of the Bar Pilots Association told ABC7 News the pilot navigating the ship at the time has now passed both the alcohol and drug tests, "The alcohol test comes back almost immediately. That's a metered type inhaler and the drug test came back the following day and both were negative."

In regard to the racon devices, the Coast Guard tells ABC7 News the state is supposed to maintain them, not them. That's something the National Transportation Safety Board will certainly look into.

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