Historical Research Paper: Oil Spill Case Studies Burmah Agate

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Burmah Agate 1979

For my historical research paper I decided to write about a spill called "Burmah Agate". It all began in the quiet morning of November 1, 1979. The Burmah Agate and the Mimosa collided at the entrance to the Galveston Harbor. The affects were absolutely devastating. The Mimosa struck the Burmah Agate on its starboard side, tearing an 8 by 15 foot hole in the hull. Before anyone could even comprehend what had just happened the situation got a whole lot worse. An explosion occurred upon impact, and the leaking oil ignited. (OSCH 3)

The USCG immediately dispatched the Cutter Valiant, a Coast Guard vessel, to begin search and rescue operations. By noon all 26 crew members of the Mimosa had been found, but only 6 of the Burmah Agate's 37 crew members were accounted for. The first 24 hours demanded frantic action to save lives and prevent the disaster from escalating. When Valiant arrived, the Burmah Agate lay aground, its superstructure aft completely engulfed in flames and other fires raging along its starboard side and on its forecastle. The Mimosa was also ablaze, but heroic helicopter crews went on to rescue crewmen from the burning decks. The disaster had already killed more than thirty sailors. It promised to get much worse as the slowly circling Mimosa worked its way across the buoyed channel, heading inexorably toward a field of active and capped gas pipes and other anchored shipping. (OSIR 2)

Rescue and Assistance team were aboard the Mimosa, but they could not stop its movement: the port anchor was frozen in place; intensity of the fire kept them from reaching the emergency cut-off valves that would have denied fuel to the engines. Finally, the combined efforts of a commercial tug and Coast Guard Group Galveston small boats succeeded in fouling her screw, and stopping the burning ship. One disaster was averted, but they still had two ships on fire, one loaded with 400,000 barrels of oil. It took six weeks for the fire on Burmah Agate to burn itself out, and the work to clean the beaches of Galveston Island lasted until Christmas. (OSIR, 4)

The owners of the Burmah Agate assumed responsibility for the spill response. They contracted Clean Water, Inc. for cleanup operations, and Smit International Inc. to fight fires on the Burmah Agate, and to assist in salvage.

Once the oil spilled, it moved fast. Booms and skimmers were deployed to protect beaches. Seasonal winds kept most of the oil offshore, however, heavy concentrations of oil washed ashore at Galveston and San Jose Island. Lighter concentrations of oil impacted Padre Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. Oil came ashore on November 5 at Galveston Jetties and East Beach, and cleanup began immediately. Oil impacted the Matagorda Peninsula on November 6. On November 9, six barrels of oil impacted 437 yards of marshes and sand beaches around Smith Point and five areas on Galveston Island. The Smith Point area was the only inland area impacted by oil. The marsh areas were not cleaned up because response efforts could have caused greater damage than the oiling. By November 12, a slick composed of sheen and mousse in windrows extended 8.5 miles south west of the tanker. Oil in the form of small tarballs impacted Padre Island near Mansfield Pass on November 13. Approximately eight barrels of oil came ashore at Padre Island where no cleanup was done. Heavy concentrations of oil impacted Galveston beaches on November 18. The heaviest impacts of oil occurred near Jamaica Beach November 19-21. On November 24, Jamaica Beach was cleaned with Vacalls. Streamers were observed near Bolivar Peninsula on November 27. (Pitt 01)

Most of the oil burned in the ship or in the water near the ship, however by December 7, a 19 mile long slick extended to the south west of the tanker. Most of the oil spilled from the tanker was blended crude with the remainder the heavier Nigerian crude. Thirty-eight per cent of the oil carried by the Burmah Agate was...
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