Potential for tar balls on beaches after leaking cargo ship loses containers

New York Department of Environmental Conservation environmental engineer Rick Lin collects tar ball samples Sunday, March 31, 2019, in New York. [Photo by USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicole J. Groll]

There’s potential for oily tar balls to wash up along Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches after a freighter traveling from South America to New York was damaged last week.

The Dublin Express cargo ship dropped 16 containers, with several spotted about 20 miles offshore recently, authorities said.

When the freighter arrived in New York Harbor on Thursday, it was also leaking fuel oil. The U.S. Coast Guard, along with partner agencies, responded Sunday to reports of oil sheen and tar balls on both Coney Island and Long Island in New York – likely a result of the damaged container ship.

The Dublin Express sustained a 15-inch hole in one of its fuel tanks prior to arriving to New York. The damaged tank has the capacity to carry approximately 300,000 gallons fuel-oil.

“The cause of the damage and the amount of fuel oil spilled have not been determined and remain under investigation,” the Coast Guard said in a press release.

The Coast Guard said impacts will likely be isolated to the Long Island and Cape Hatteras areas, the Dublin’s closest line of approach.

Winds and currents should be favorable for keeping oil and lost containers offshore for the next few days, the Coast Guard said. Once the oil weathers, isolated tar balls are possible off the coast here. At least one boat fishing off Hatteras reported a tar-like substance on their gear Friday night.

“I’d like to assure the community that the Coast Guard and our partner agencies are working as quickly as possible to ensure a thorough clean-up, determine the source of the spill, and hold the responsible party accountable,” said Capt. Jason Tama, commander Coast Guard Sector New York, and federal on-scene coordinator. “Our immediate priorities are to ensure the safety of the public, protection of wildlife, and the environment.”

Beach goers and waterway users are advised to avoid contact with the tar balls, or other oiled material.