Date of incident: November 26, 2004.
Delaware River (near Paulsboro, NJ).
Case status: Final Restoration Plan and Environmental
Assessment issued and restoration funds acquired.
Overview of the spill: On 26 November 2004, the M/T ATHOS I (Athos) struck a large, submerged
anchor while preparing to dock at a refinery in Paulsboro, New Jersey. The
anchor punctured the vessel’s bottom, resulting in the discharge of nearly
265,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River and nearby tributaries.
See Map of the approximate location of the Athos oil
spill incident on the Delaware River.
Federal, state, and local agencies responded to the incident to supervise and
assist in clean-up and begin assessing the impact of the spill on natural
resources. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), working with the states of New Jersey
and Delaware, and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created a Unified Command for
directing clean-up efforts. NOAA, FWS, and natural resource agencies within
Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (collectively referred to as the natural
resource trustees) began collecting “preassessment” data on the natural and
recreational resources injured by the spill. This data provided the basis for
crafting the preferred restoration projects. Further, the collection of these
data allowed the trustees to meet their legal requirement to prepare a natural
resource damage assessment (NRDA) under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA).
Restoration Planning: In September 2010, the Trustees
were awarded $27.5 million dollars by the National Pollution Funds Center for settlement since the Responsible Party for
this case met its limit of liability during the response phase of the incident. Beginning in the summer of 2011, ten restoration projects will be implemented to restore areas within the Delaware River watershed. These projects will benefit coastal communities and economies by improving habitat, providing green jobs during construction, and creating new opportunities to enjoy the river and its wildlife.
Legal requirements: Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) (33 U.S.C.
§2706(b)), state, tribal, and federal agencies are designated as natural
resource trustees, responsible for assessing natural resource losses and
restoring those losses to baseline conditions, that is, the conditions that
would have existed had the incident not occurred. Regulations promulgated under
OPA provide a framework for conducting a damage assessment, including
preassessment, restoration planning, and restoration implementation (15 C.F.R.
Part 990). Funds to assess losses and to plan and implement appropriate
restoration are provided by either the responsible party (RP) or, if an RP
refuses, does not exist, or exceeds its limit of liability, the Oil Spill
Liability Trust Fund established under OPA.
Spill History: The Athos is a 750-foot, single bottom, double-sided tanker that was built in
1983. At the time of the incident, the vessel was registered under the flag of
Cyprus, owned by Frescati Shipping Company, Ltd., and operated by Tsakos
Shipping Trading, S.A.
The Athos departed Venezuela for the Citgo Asphalt Refinery in
Paulsboro, New Jersey on 20 November 2004, carrying approximately 13 million
gallons of crude oil. At approximately 9:30 pm on 26 November 2004, tug
operators assisting the Athos with docking at the refinery notified the
USCG that the tanker was leaking oil into the Delaware River. The vessel had
struck several submerged objects while maneuvering through Anchorage #9 to its
berth. Within minutes, the ship lost power and listed onto its side.
Surveys of the river bottom following the incident found several submerged
objects in the area, including an 18,000 pound anchor. The USCG’s investigation
of the incident determined that the anchor punctured the vessel’s number seven
center cargo and port ballast tanks. The bulkhead between the cargo and ballast
tanks was also damaged, allowing oil to migrate into the river.
The Unified Command initially estimated that 30,000 gallons of oil spilled into the River. This estimate was
revised to 473,500 gallons based on “worst-case” assumptions once the vessel
was stabilized. Following a more comprehensive analysis, the USCG provided a
final estimate of 263,371 gallons that spilled into the Delaware River.
At the time of the incident, the tide was incoming, and the current was moving quickly. Within the first few
hours, thick oil covered the River and moved upriver with the flood tide to
about the Walt Whitman Bridge, approximately six miles north. Over the
following weeks and months, oil from the ruptured tanker also spread downriver,
exposing natural resources over 115 river miles of the Delaware River (280
miles of shoreline), as well as its tributaries. Over time, the oil spill
extended from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to south of the Smyrna River in
Delaware. Key resources exposed to the spilled oil included shorelines
(marshes, sandy beaches, tidal flats, etc.), aquatic organisms (fish,
shellfish, etc.), birds and other wildlife that use the Delaware River and Bay,
as well as recreational areas used by the public. The incident also forced the
USCG to close the Delaware River to commercial traffic for over a week.
Findings from the trustees' assessment indicated injuries to shorelines (e.g., wetlands, beaches, etc.),
tributaries, birds, aquatic habitats, and recreational uses. Based on these
findings, the trustees developed several restoration projects, both ecological
and recreational, to address these losses. These alternatives were then
narrowed down to the ten preferred projects which
will now be implemented.