Exxon Could Be Fined Up to $5,000 for Leak

Times Staff Writer

Exxon Shipping Co. could be fined as much as $5,000 for traces of oil found in the ocean near the Exxon Valdez as the damaged tanker sat off the San Diego County coast July 12, Coast Guard officials said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation and Safety Board's on-site investigation of the damaged tanker is likely to be completed this week. The damaged tanker is sitting in a dry dock at National Steel & Shipbuilding's yard in National City. Repairs could begin as early as next week, according to a Nassco spokeswoman.

'Probable' Connection

The Coast Guard's initial inspection has determined that there was a "probable" connection between the unidentified substance found off San Diego and the type of North Slope oil that fouled ocean waters when the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Alaska. The Coast Guard's laboratory "identified significant quantities of organic materials with traces of Alaskan crude oil," according to Coast Guard Lt. Larry Solberg. "We got a probable match."

Exxon could face a simple letter of reprimand or a civil fine of as much as $5,000. The investigation will now move to a district Coast Guard office in Northern California, and Exxon will have an opportunity to appeal the decision.

An Exxon spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation on grounds that the company has not seen the Coast Guard's report.

On July 12, state Department of Fish and Game officials collected samples from a "visible sheen" on the ocean's surface. Tests suggested that the Valdez was responsible for the sheen, said Reed Smith, pollution response coordinator for fish and game. The state agency, however, was powerless to pursue the matter because it occurred in federal waters and the agency is responsible only for waters within the state's boundaries.

Agreed to Test

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard agreed to test a sample to determine if the sheen was linked to the Valdez. "The probable finding was enough for us to go ahead with further investigation," Solberg said.

The Coast Guard never found the source of a much larger sheen that fouled the ocean's surface July 10, Solberg said. That slick extended 18 miles away from the general vicinity of the ship. However, investigators were unable to make a "probable match" between that sheen and the Valdez.

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