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5 Months After Oil Spill In San Francisco Bay, Coast Guard Refusing FOIA Request On Cargo Ships In California

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SAUSALITO, California -- More than five months after the devastating Cosco Busan accident, the US Coast Guard is still refusing to comply with an October 11, 2008 Freedom of Information Request by the marine conservation organization Seaflow asking for a list of vessels previously cited by the Coast Guard for regulatory violations and environmental crimes. The Cocsco Busan smashed into the Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007 resulting in the spilling of about 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel that polluted beaches and pristine marine habitats throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Seaflow is working to bring to light more information about the extent of the threat posed by large vessels to the San Francisco Bay Area, including California's four National Marine Sanctuaries and many state Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), in order to better address the critical and heightened risk to the marine environment from oil spills, greenhouse gas emissions, ship strikes and rising levels of ocean noise pollution.

"We know that the US Coast Guard was not forthcoming about providing the public with adequate and accurate information about the extent of the dangers posed to the marine environment from the Cosco Busan crash. Five months later, the US Coast Guard still refuses to provide the public with basic information about past 'Cosco Busans' that may still be visiting San Francisco Bay everyday," warned Robert Ovetz, Ph.D., executive director of Seaflow.

"The California Coast is the wild west of the high seas. There are no speed limits for large vessels as they come barreling towards San Francisco Bay. There are almost no regulations requiring them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or reduce the noise pollution they are increasingly emitting into the ocean. Shipping lanes even run near or right through our National Marine Sanctuaries and some of our newly planned state MPAs," Ovetz added.

The federal government has a system of 13 National Marine Sanctuaries, the ocean equivalent to our national park system, which protect the most sensitive and biologically diverse of our national waters. California has four Sanctuaries along its coast—the Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. There are about 100 state MPAs along the California coast and dozens in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"The fact is we know very little about what is happening outside the Bay where the Coast Guard is responsible by law to protect the marine environment. And when the public asks for more information we are met with inaction and a lack of transparency."

"That is why Seaflow is launching the Vessel Watch Project on Sunday, May 4th to give concerned citizens an opportunity to learn about and protect the wonderful marine environment under threat from unregulated large vessels using our 'Yosemites on the Sea' as if they are onramps to the global economy," Ovetz said.

In addition to oil spills, large cargo vessels and oil supertankers —which emit intense low-frequency noise at the same frequency used by baleen whales—are the biggest source of ocean noise pollution in the ocean today. Ocean noise pollution is on the rise locally and globally. In some areas, scientists have documented that underwater noise levels have doubled every decade for the past four decades. Ocean noise pollution has a range of impacts on marine life. At worst, it can be deadly. Studies show that fish, including commercially important species, are dramatically impacted by noise pollution. Hearing loss, changes in migration and schooling along with serious reduction in catch rates have all been documented.

Large vessel traffic into and out of the San Francisco Bay is increasing rapidly. An estimated 3,600 large vessels enter San Francisco Bay each year and even more pass the Bay along nearby shipping lanes. According to the federal government, the global large commercial vessel fleet nearly tripled from about 30,000 vessels in 1950 to more than 91,000 vessels in 2006, and is expected to nearly double in the next 20-30 years. The Port of Oakland, tucked away behind three of our National Marine Sanctuaries, is the fourth busiest container port in the U.S. and 20th busiest in the world with plans to continue expanding its port capacity to meet the increasing shipping traffic.

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