U.S. sues over ’09 harbor oil spill

Oil linked to a spill from the cargo ship John F. was discovered among the reeds on Seabrook Island in 2009.

The federal government is suing a cargo ship owner and others for expenses and damages stemming from the extensive cleanup following a oil spill three years ago in Charleston Harbor.

Federal attorneys filed a civil suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, seeking reimbursement from Black Med Lines, LTD, Fairsky Shipping and Trading, S.A., and their insurance companies for cleanup and other charges from the October 2009 oil spill by the John F., a 600-foot cargo vessel.

The filing claims the Greece-based owner and operators of the vessel failed to take necessary precautions to prevent the oil spill, which leaked black globs of oil on 60 miles of area shoreline.

The suit asks that the companies be held liable under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, enacted in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil-tanker spill, requiring payment for removal costs and damages caused by a spill, including damages to natural resources.

The federal lawsuit came just weeks after another shipping line, Evergreen International S.A., agreed to pay federal and South Carolina departments for an incident that spilled 12,500 gallons of oil into the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor a decade ago.

Wednesday’s federal filing stated that the John F. was taking on heavy bunker fuel from a barge while anchored in the harbor during the afternoon of Oct. 19. The operation halted after crew members discovered fuel discharging from a vent for one of the fuel tanks, but not before some spilled over the vessel’s side and into the harbor, according to the document.

The statement added that the spill occurred because the valve used to isolate a fuel tank was broken, and “the overflow of fuel went undetected for an unknown period of time.”

The incident caused oil slicks in the harbor and barrier islands.

The federal government is asking a judge for an award for damages and for destruction to natural resources, in addition to $354,092, plus interest from John F. owners and operators for the nearly two-week cleanup cost.

Lawyers representing the companies did not respond to attempts for comment Friday.

Last month, shipping company Evergreen agreed to pay nearly $1 million to numerous local and federal agencies for damages caused by a 2002 incident when the company’s ship struck a submerged steel dredge pipe and polluted shores and marshes along Noisette Creek at the former Navy base.

The consent decree followed about $4 million Evergreen already has paid for the cleanup effort, which involved bird rescues, boat and pier cleaning and reimbursement for property damage.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.