Oil Spill Threatens Bird Sanctuary Off Staten Island

Oil from a barge spilled into the waters off Staten Island, spreading to a bird sanctuary on an island in Newark Bay, the Coast Guard said on Saturday.

The spill was detected shortly after 11 p.m. Friday at May Ship Repair, said Petty Officer Erik Swanson, a Coast Guard spokesman. Petty Officer Swanson said that fuel oil was being transferred from a barge called Boston 30 to another barge, DBL 25, when workers noticed that it was also darkening the water between the vessels.

Workers placed a boom on the surface of the water to contain the oil, added absorbent materials and notified the authorities, Petty Officer Swanson said.

The oil was coming from one of the Boston 30’s tanks, which was carrying 112,000 gallons. The barge is owned by Boston Marine Transport of Massachusetts.

The Coast Guard has not yet determined how much oil had leaked from the tank or what caused the leak. Petty Officer Swanson added that Coast Guard helicopters surveyed the area and saw that an oily sheen had spread to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, about six miles to the east.

Petty Officer Swanson said that the oil had also reached the Shooters Island Bird Sanctuary and the Richmond Terrace wetlands, both of which are controlled by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and are within several hundred yards of where the leak took place.

Shooters Island, which is closed to the public and is only visited by scientists and government employees, is a breeding ground for several species of wading birds. Birds that frequent the 35-acre island include the glossy ibis, black-crowned night heron, and species like the snowy egret and great egret, which were nearly extinct before legislation protecting them and their breeding grounds was signed into law.

May Ship Repair occupies the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Shipyard, in the Mariners Harbor neighborhood on the northwest end of Staten Island. The company’s Web site said it had three dry docks and could accommodate ships up to 300 feet long.

No one answered calls placed to the company on Saturday.

By Saturday, the Coast Guard said, Boston Marine Transport had hired the Miller Environmental Group, a Long Island company, to help with the cleanup. Workers from Miller Environmental had placed additional booms and absorbent material around the two barges and begun further cleanup efforts, according to Petty Officer Swanson.

Workers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection were also joining the cleanup effort.

A spokesman for the parks department said the agency had not yet been able to assess the spill’s effect, if any, on Shooters Island.

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