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Coast Guard Responding To Unknown Source Oil Spill In San Juan Harbor

SAN JUAN — Coast Guard Incident Management personnel from Sector San Juan are responding to an active oil discharge from an unknown source that is affecting piers four through six in San Juan Harbor and the proximate storm drainage system on land.

Coast Guard Incident Management Division personnel are monitoring the oil discharged within the storm drain system, which is being contained and recovered periodically by contracted oil recovery crews. 

As response efforts continue to identify and secure the discharge source, the Coast Guard urges the public to not expose themselves or touch any oil product that may be accessible from the storm drains, manholes or the affected waterway.

The Coast Guard first responded to the oil discharge July 18, 2021, when Puerto Rico Ports Authority reported  an oily sheen in the water just off pier four.  The initial response identified a storm drain system heavily oiled with what appeared to be a type of bunker oil, similar to Bunker C.  Due to the potential impact to the nearby waterway, the Coast Guard activated the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and contracted Clean Harbors as the Oil Spill Removal Organization.  Cleanup crews have conducted multiple oil recovery operations using vacuum truck systems and have installed absorbent boom inside multiple manholes to collect discharged oil. Cleanup crews have also installed containment boom across the length of piers four through six to prevent any oil from further spreading inside the harbor. 

Additionally, the Coast Guard has contracted Resolve Marine to investigate the source of the discharge. To date, Resolve Marine has completed an initial survey and presented an initial assessment of findings and recommendations.

As efforts continue, the Coast Guard is communicating and coordinating with local and federal government agencies and the Caribbean Regional Response Team to keep them informed on the status and progress of the response.

“We are responding and making the necessary notifications throughout the Puerto Rico Government and the City of San Juan to identify the source and stop it from further discharging oil into the San Juan Harbor waterway,” said Capt. Gregory H. Magee, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.  “We are making every effort to address this concerning situation responsibly and diligently.  Our immediate priorities are to identify and contain the source of the discharge and recover any discharged oil, while protecting public health and mitigating any further impacts to the environment.”

Response crews are currently planning an underground survey to find and assess the condition of historic oil pipe lines in the area from the early or mid-1900’s that are no longer in service and are suspected of having oil inside them.

Due to the complexity of the area, the access control and permit requirements that will need to be in place, and the specialized equipment that needs to arrive on island to conduct the survey, this phase of the response may take four to six weeks or longer depending on the findings.

Since the response began, oil recovery crews have collected approximately 12,100 gallons of oily water mixture, with an estimated 50 percent being oil product.  The amount of oily water waste or oil product discharging from the source is yet to be determined.

People looking to report oil pollution in the water may contact the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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