Leak Spurs Evacuation at L.A. Port

Times Staff Writer

The Port of Los Angeles called for a partial evacuation Friday after a gasoline leak on a docked tanker caused oxygen in several cargo holds to reach potentially explosive levels, officials said.

U.S. Coast Guard officials discovered the dangerous oxygen levels after responding to a 3:30 a.m. call from the ship's crew about an 80-gallon gasoline leak. The Coast Guard set up a voluntary evacuation area 600 yards from the ship.

The gasoline was contained onboard the Probo Elk, a Republic of the Marshall Islands tanker that had docked Thursday at the port after traveling from South Korea.

An investigation later determined that oxygen levels in four of the ship's seven holding tanks were higher than allowed by federal regulations, because the system that controls those levels was not functioning.

It was unclear whether the system was broken or had not been turned on, said Lt. P.J. Jacquelin, spokesman for the Coast Guard in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Jacquelin said Friday afternoon that the oxygen levels had returned to acceptable levels and that the ship was safe. He said it was unclear how long the "safety zone" would be maintained and whether the Probo Elk would be delayed at the port.

Manny Aschemeyer, director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, said the ship would be towed about three miles offshore as a precaution.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who traveled to the port after hearing about the incident, praised the performance of the Los Angeles Fire Department and Port Police.

"The ancillary benefit of an exercise like this is it allows you to see first-hand how our first responders take on an emergency," he said. "I think they came through with flying colors."

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