Forty HazMat professionals battled toxic gunk on the treacherous Berkeley Marina rocks as part of the Cosco Busan Oil Spill Response Monday.
Their only weapon: hand towels.
The city stopped deploying volunteers to rescue birds and clean up the Berkeley shoreline Monday to give the O’Brien’s Group, the private recovery firm hired by Cosco Busan owner Regal Stone Ltd., an opportunity to clean its beaches.
Community members can still sign up at californiavolunteers.org for future volunteer opportunities.
“We can’t have the volunteers and the contractors working on the same spot. There are liability issues involved for the contractors,” said William Rogers, interim director for Berkeley’s Parks Recreation and Waterfront Department. “They are being paid by the owners of the ship to do the cleaning. The community worked diligently, but there’s still a lot of oil out there that’s difficult to see from the shoreline. The professionals should really be the ones cleaning it.”
Regal Stone Inc.—which leased the ship to South Korea-based Hanjin Shipping for the voyage—is also providing Tyvek coveralls, gloves, shoe protection, bags, and disposal containers for the cleanups.
Rogers added that although the clean-up was slow, the situation had improved.
“Volunteers have pulled over 100 bagfuls of pebbles, vegetation and other hazardous waste,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been able to clean up as well if it hadn’t been for them. Unfortunately, the situation with the birds is not great. There has been an increase in the number of dead birds found and a decline in the number of alive birds.”
Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, supervisor for the makeshift bird rescue center set up by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at the Marina, said that the pattern was typical.
“The further you get into a situation like this, it is expected that there will be more dead birds,” she said, packing rescue essentials into a pick-up truck. “The birds are ingesting the oil while picking at their feathers and sometimes when the oil dries up they are unable to move.”
Gilardi added that the rescue center was working independently to send volunteers to search for birds.
The Department of Fish and Game released 38 birds into Pillar Point Harbor Friday afternoon, the first of hundreds taken to the International Bird Rescue and Research Center to be saved.
Berkeley deployed two hundred volunteers to clean eight beaches Saturday including Virginia Beach, Brick Yard Cove and Albany Beach.
Officials from the Department of Fish and Game delivered the HazMat trainings for the city.
Rogers said that although the city had responded to the spills independently at first, it was now being advised by the incident command center at Treasure Island.
“Some other cities were concerned about liability when the spill happened,” he said. “But Berkeley decided earlier on to train its folks and deploy them and make sure they were supervised. Berkeley felt this was an acceptable risk.”
Fifty volunteers turned up Sunday, some with towels, others with pets and families in tow.
Although the Marina had opened to boat traffic Thursday, the piers were still deserted. Crabbing equipment lay inside the boats untouched.
“I am not using my boat right now,” said Michael Lamb, a boat-owner at the Berkeley Marina. “We have been asked not to wash our boats ... I leave it to the experts to make the decisions. I hope to use it next week.”
City Manager Phil Kamlarz along with councilmembers Linda Maio and Darryl Moore toured Berkeley’s coastline Sunday.
“It looked better than I thought until I came to the northern end,” Maio, dressed in an orange life-vest, said. “Some of the oil residues have stuck internally to the rocks and the HazMat crews are working to remove them.”
“We are hoping that the teams will come around the houseboats and clean the scum,” said Moore.
Families could be spotted along the shoreline looking for distressed birds, some braving the rocks to flag their location.
Kamlarz—who declared a state of emergency Thursday—said that the smell of oil had receded from the bay.
“There’s still a lot of residue from Skates on the north to the Yacht Club,” he said. “Same for the F and G docks ... People should put their dogs on leash and stay away from the sick birds. Two volunteers were recently injured in the Marina ... We want the professionals to take over now.”
Jeff Topic, site supervisor for the HazMat crew contracted by O’Brien’s, said the teams had been working since Thursday.
“We are scraping the oil off the rocks and using a rag to wipe it off,” he said. “That’s the best way. All my people go through 40 hours of training ... All of them have had spill experience before.”
Dressed in steel-toed knee-high boots, safety glasses and gloves, the crew has cleaned more than three-quarters of a mile since Thursday.
Shawn Weaver and Lawrence Davis had been wiping oil off the rocks for twelve straight hours.
“It’s not time for break yet,” Weaver said. “We’ll be here for as long as it takes.”