Sunken Ship Releases Oil for 50 Years

It took until 2002, but the Coast Guard, with the help of some recreational scuba divers, finally discovered what was causing seemingly random oil spills along California’s coast near San Francisco: the SS Jacob Luckenbach, which sank in 1953 with lots of oil. After storms, some of that oil would wash up on beaches and kill birds; by the turn of the twenty-first century, some 50,000 ashy storm-petrels, snowy plovers, brown pelicans, common grebes, and other birds had been killed by the oil.

Then the Coast Guard, alerted by the divers, spent millions cleaning up the wreck and sealing it. Although oil spills along that stretch of coast have not stopped altogether, they are less frequent.

In early April, state and federal officials announced more money to continue the cleanup: $16.9 million to restore breeding grounds for the species of birds damaged by the spills. Not all those breeding grounds are in California; some are as far away as New Zealand.

The funds came from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund; oil companies pay fees to the trust fund for just such a purpose.

Source: “$16.9 Million Awarded to Restore Habitats Harmed by Oil,” Jason Dearen, Business Week, April 7, 2010