NORFOLK, JULY 5 -- Cleaning up 30,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled in the collision of two cargo ships Sunday on Chesapeake Bay already has cost nearly $1 million, the Coast Guard said today.
"The beaches are clean," said Capt. Eugene K. Johnson, commander of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Norfolk. "The skimmers have gotten all the loose oil in the harbor. Now we're starting to remove the oil clinging to piers and pilings along the harbor."
Johnson said he believed the total cleanup cost would go higher. He said it would be at least a week before the cleanup is completed.
Columbus America Inc., the West German owner of the freighter Columbus America, has taken responsibility for the costs.
A joint Coast Guard-National Transportation Safety Board panel is holding a hearing to establish the ships' exact positions at the time of the Sunday accident, which occurred during a storm.
The pilot aboard the inbound Neptune Jade has testified the outbound Columbus America was in the inbound section of the channel. The pilot aboard the Columbus America denies that. The ships collided and the Columbus America's fuel tank was ruptured.
Capt. Richard L. Counselman, pilot of the Columbus America, said today his crew did not see the Neptune Jade on radar until seconds before the collision.
When the storm hit, he said he asked the crewman operating the radar to find the buoy on the channel's south boundary. Counselman said its location confirmed the course he set by dead reckoning, putting the ship in the outbound lane.
Cmdr. Edward Murphy, one of the panel's members, asked Counselman if he was convinced the buoy sighted on the radar was the south buoy, and if it was possible that the radar blip was the Neptune Jade.
"When the Neptune Jade appeared on the radar just before the collision, she was a huge blip . . . not at all like the buoy," Counselman replied.
The hearing is scheduled to continue Friday.