Alameda County District Attorney's Office
Nancy E. O'Malley, District Attorney

Meet DA Nancy E. O'Malley

$1.96 Million Settlement for 2009 San Francisco Bay Oil Spill

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley announced today that a $1.96 million settlement was reached in a civil action against the owner and operator of the Dubai Star for causing an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay on October 30, 2009. This civil settlement is the result of a unique partnership between local law enforcement and the California Department of Fish and Game.

“The San Francisco Bay is an environmental treasure that needs to be protected,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “The Dubai Star settlement will ensure our local environment is restored and help deter such events from occurring in the future.”

District Attorney O’Malley praised the settlement as “a victory for environmental restoration and the citizens of the Bay Area who cherish access to clean and safe public beaches.” Ms. O’Malley was thankful for the hard work and cooperation of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Fish and Game.

The oil spill occurred in the jurisdictional waters of San Francisco County and the prevailing Bay tide carried the spilled bunker fuel to the tidal areas of Alameda and Bay Farm Islands. An environmental incident investigation conducted by the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) concluded that the oil spill impacted over 200 acres of rocky intertidal, sandy beach, marsh/mudflat and eelgrass habitat from Alameda Point to the Oakland Airport. Additionally, CDFG estimated that approximately 113 seabirds died, including grebes, brown pelicans and coots. The CDFG also determined that the oil spill resulted in recreational use losses, including loss of general beach use due to beach closures and warnings posted at Crown Beach and Crab Cove, and lost or diminished shore-based recreational fishing and marina boating.

The District Attorney’s complaint alleges defendants Pioneer Ship Management Services, L.L.C., manager and operator of the Dubai Star, and South Harmony Shipping, Inc., owner of the Dubai Star violated the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act and the Fish & Game Code (§ 5650 et seq., 2014 and 12016).

Events Leading Up to the Spill

In the early morning of October 30, 2009, the Dubai Star began taking on fuel (bunkering) at Anchorage 9 in the San Francisco Bay – south of the Bay Bridge. A fueling barge had pulled alongside the Dubai Star and begun pumping bunker oil to the Dubai Star. At about 5:45 a.m., a Dubai Star crewmember turned a wheel to shut off the flow of bunker fuel to a port tank that had reached its fill capacity and directed fuel into a starboard tank. However, due to an apparent valve failure, bunker fuel continued to flow into the first tank until it overflowed. Bunker fuel spilled out of the tank’s vent onto the ship’s deck and ultimately spilled over the ship’s hull into the San Francisco Bay.

Causes of the Spill

The spill was caused by overlapping mechanical, electronic, and human failures. Although the initial cause of the spill was a mechanical failure of the valve, the spill was allowed to occur because warning devices apparently failed and safety procedures and protocols were not followed.

  • The Dubai Star was equipped with electronic gauges in the engine control room designed to display tank levels. The crewmember assigned to monitor those gauges inexplicably failed to notice on his computer monitor that the level of the fuel tank continued to rise past its capacity – after its isolation valve was supposed to have been closed.
  • The Dubai Star was equipped with two sets of alarms designed to provide audible and visual alerts if tank fuel levels passed designated capacity levels. According to evidence uncovered during the oil spill investigation, both sets of alarms failed to sound.
  • Ship procedures and industry standards required the crew to manually check fuel levels, a process called sounding the tanks, at regular intervals during bunkering. Despite this requirement, the crewmember assigned to sound the tanks during bunkering failed to detect the rising level of the port tank.
  • At least one crewmember was assigned to rove the deck during bunkering. The rover failed to see that oil had pooled on deck and spilled into the Bay. By the time another crewmember observed the oil on deck and signaled the fueling barge to shut off the flow of oil, approximately 422 gallons of bunker fuel had spilled overboard into the San Francisco Bay.

Failure of Ship Captain Promptly and Accurately to Report Spill

The Captain (Master) of the Dubai Star, who had been asleep when the spill was discovered, was alerted of the spill at approximately 6:15 a.m. The Master did not notify any federal or state authorities of the spill until approximately 6:43 a.m., when he called Vessel Traffic Service (“VTS”) and reported that there was a “little bit” of oil spilled on the “deck only,” and that “nothing is going overboard.” Subsequent reports by the Dubai Star to VTS over the next hour did not reveal the full extent of the spill of oil into the San Francisco Bay.

Settlement Terms

Total Amount of Settlement $1.96 million

- Civil Penalties $550,000.00

- Natural Resource Damages and Costs
and Response Costs $1,408,136.56

Injunctive Terms

Permanent injunction requiring that the defendants:

  • maintain and comply with oil transfer procedures in accordance with federal and state law;
  • ensure that monitoring devices are installed and operating properly, in accordance with federal and state law; and
  • immediately report a discharge or threatened discharge of oil into marine waters to the California Emergency Management Agency and immediately report any updated information to correct inaccurate or incomplete initial reports.


Posted on May 9, 2012