According to citizen reports and chatter among Santa Barbara’s maritime community, it appears a large shipping barge recently capsized off Point Conception. It’s not clear when the 250- to 300-foot vessel tipped, or what it contains, but unverified information suggests the Coast Guard is now working to tow it to deeper waters.
Multiple calls and emails to Coast Guard media offices up and down the state over the past 24 hours have not been returned. A person who answered the phone for the Coast Guard’s local Marine Safety Detachment said he was unauthorized to speak on the matter, and messages left with nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base have not been answered. Santa Barbara harbor officials and members of its environmental organizations have either remained similarly mum or have no knowledge of the incident, other than what’s on the Internet. A post on Edhat was one of the first unofficial reports about the barge.
Though also unsure of the details, an unnamed source at the Marine Exchange of Southern California — which is like air traffic control for ships coming into the Long Beach and San Pedro harbors — said that they knew something was going on. “If the Coast Guard is not talking, there’s probably a good reason,” the source said.
UPDATE, 11:30 a.m.: According to a federal source who did not wish to be named, citing the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction in these matters, the barge did have an accident off of Point Conception, and a multi-agency response team was able to float the ship to an approved disposal zone in federal waters. The barge was carrying magnesium chloride, a type of salt, and there may have been some diesel fuel left on board, but the sunken ship is “not expected to be a big concern” since it was scuttled in an area without “sensitive marine resources.“
UPDATE, 4:00 p.m.: The Coast Guard has issued a statement about the sunken barge and yesterday’s successful scuttle of the 260-foot vessel to “a deep ocean disposal location … with minimal impact to the environment.” A press release issued shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 18 said the barge — named Nash and owned by Seattle-based Salmon Bay Barge Line, Inc. — sank near Point Conception State Marine Reserve on June 8. It’s unclear why the boat sank, and follow-up questions to the Coast Guard and Salmon Bay Barge Line were not immediately returned.
The barge was carrying 3,900 metric tons of magnesium chloride, “a non-hazardous derivative of sea water,” the Coast Guard said, and came to rest approximately 1/2 mile south of the oil and gas pipelines extending from the Freeport-McMorRan Hermosa Platform. “The cargo of magnesium chloride was largely released during the initial sinking event with no projected or observed environmental impact,” the press release stated. Initial reports that diesel fuel was also spilled couldn’t be verified.
The Coast Guard said it worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to find a site to scuttle the barge. Tug boats reportedly kept watch over the Nash while salvage efforts took place. No other information was provided.