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Shipwreck Spills 200 Gallons of Diesel near Natural Bridges

A fishing boat ran aground early Sunday, spurring a scramble to contain leaks

An image of the wreck near UCSC's Seymour Center taken around 8:00 a.m. Monday morning. PHOTO: Sven Davis

A precarious environmental situation is proving difficult to resolve after a fishing boat ran aground on the rocks just north of Natural Bridges State Beach over the weekend.

Rough overnight surf on Sunday complicated efforts to minimize diesel leaks from the 56-foot commercial fishing boat.

The boat, named “Pacific Quest” and registered in San Diego, was filled with about 1,200 gallons of diesel when the wreck was reported around 2 a.m. Sunday morning, according to Coast Guard reports. While spill containment and salvage operations were ongoing Monday morning, it appears that about 200 gallons of diesel leaked into the waters near the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Coast Guard spokesperson Sarah Wilson says.

“They’re still trying to pinpoint exactly how much,” Wilson says. A unified crew of government responders was able to seal the leak yesterday, containing the remaining 680 gallons on board. “We’re hoping, with conditions throughout the day, that stays sealed,” she adds.

A man and his dog were on the boat when it ran aground. The pair were uninjured and able to walk to shore during low tide, Wilson says.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a small diesel spill as 500-5,000 gallons. Fuel from fishing boats, the agency’s website says, often disperses or evaporates quickly, avoiding the thicker pools of fuel that can result from oil spills.

The incident occurred near UCSC’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center, where a spokesperson said that researchers and staff are focused on supporting a large team of local, state and federal responders. They’re working alongside contractor Parker Diving and Salvage to remove the remaining fuel, batteries and other potential contaminants.

A video published on YouTube by user Santa Cruz Films shows footage reportedly taken after the mayday call was received on Sunday (fast forward to about 3:35 for images of the boat):

Response teams worked to contain the fuel on Sunday before the boat broke apart due to rough surf conditions overnight. Crews were expected to continue working at low tide on Monday evening to remove remaining fuel and batteries, including personnel from NOAA, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), Monterey County and the Santa Cruz Fire Department.

“Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often,” Wilson says. “We work together regularly and drill for these things.”

Four years ago, O’Neill Sea Odyssey Executive Director Dan Haifley recalls, another wreck occurred when a sailboat ran aground near Seabright Beach and had to be hauled back into the water.

More concerning, Haifley says, is a rise in incidents over the last several years involving so-called “panga” fishing boats common in developing countries. A March 2014 report by the Santa Cruz Sentinel tallied 70 panga boats seized in California in a six-month span alone, many thought to be transporting marijuana from Mexico, including three vessels in the Santa Cruz area.

“Those are boats operated by people with little experience, often moving drugs for the cartels,” Haifley said. “It’s become a major Coast Guard problem and expense.”

The boat that ran aground Sunday near Natural Bridges was previously affiliated with San Diego deep-sea sport fishing company Fisherman’s Landing, online records show. A staff member who answered the phone Monday at the fishing tour company said the vessel had not been operating with the business for several years.

Update: Aug. 13, 2018, 2:00 p.m. — This story has been updated to clarify the details of a previous boating incident at Seabright Beach. 

Digital Editor at Good Times |

Lauren Hepler is the digital editor of Good Times and a reporter covering cities, jobs and tech — plus the occasional sports or agriculture story required of all Ohio natives. She has contributed to the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Slate. Lauren was previously on staff at the Silicon Valley Business Journal and is a graduate of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

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