A large-scale cleanup effort is underway along the waterfront of Nantucket Harbor after one of the most significant fuel spills in decades occurred Monday afternoon in the Nantucket Boat Basin.
An unknown amount of diesel fuel - estimates range from 10 gallons to more than 100 gallons - spilled from a yacht tied up at Old South Wharf around 4 p.m., sending a sheen around the Boat Basin and the smell of fuel throughout the downtown area and beyond.
Staff from the Nantucket Harbormaster’s office and the Boat Basin responded immediately to the scene and were quickly joined by personnel from Coast Guard Station Brant Point, the Nantucket Fire Department, and Hy-Line Cruises in an attempt to contain the fuel spill.
Those agencies worked together to set out more than 1,000 feet of floating boom and absorbent pads to stop the spill from spreading. The smell from the fuel was so strong that Cru restaurant closed its outdoor dining areas for the night.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection was notified, and representatives from the state agency were en route to the island on Tuesday to assess the situation and cleanup response.
“It’s been a community effort, everyone has been helping from the charter boat captains to the Hy-Line, the Coast Guard, the Fire Department and the Boat Basin,” Nantucket Harbormaster Sheila Lucey told the Current. “Everyone responded immediately asking ‘What can we do’?”
Lucey said she would issue a ticket and fine the owner of the yacht. She added that the Coast Guard is investigating and will likely also be issuing a fine.
The motor yacht from which the fuel spilled was identified as the “Problem Solved” out of Miami Florida. The owner declined to comment when asked by the Current about what had happened.
By Tuesday morning, an environmental cleanup consultant from New Bedford - paid for by the yacht owner’s insurance company - had arrived at the Boat Basin to help coordinate the response. The consultant was spotted boarding the “Problem Solved” along with Nantucket Fire Department captain Kevin Ramos around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Christina Martin, the director of marine operations for the Nantucket Boat Basin, said the spill happened as the yacht owner was attempting to reset the vessel's operating system due to an issue with the wifi. At that point, fuel began to transfer from one of the yacht’s tanks to another that was already full, sending diesel fuel out of one of the vents along the starboard side of the vessel. The captain of the yacht was not aboard the vessel, and the owner was initially unaware that the spill was occurring.
The smell was immediately noticed by two nearby charter boat captains - Brian Borgeson of Absolute Sport Fishing and Bobby DeCosta of the Albacore - who sprang into action to alert the owner and help cut power to the boat.
“We pulled out of our slip and I noticed the smell of diesel and pulled up to the boat,” Borgeson said. “Followed it back right up the swim platform to where it was coming out. I think it was a fuel transfer vent. We started screaming at the boat and the owner came out and we got him to turn his power off to stop the pump. I called the dock master and she had a team there extra fast.”
Martin said it was the largest fuel spill she could remember in her 30 years at the Boat Basin, but that the rapid response by the charter boat captains and coordination among the various agencies had prevented a larger incident and largely contained the fuel spill from spreading.
Martin added that the boat owner was apologetic and had walked around the Boat Basin Monday evening to thank those involved in the clean-up response. The fuel spill, she said, was significant but an accident.
Nantucket Fire Chief Michael Cranson also noted the response effort and said that a “unified command” had been established to help coordinate all the various agencies involved.
“It’s a diesel spill - we’re not sure exactly how much was released - but basically the source was identified, stopped obviously, and we’ve been working on containment,” Cranson said Tuesday morning. “The plan last night through the Department of Environmental Protection was to secure everything, we had all our booms out to contain it, leave it for the night, and look at it in the morning to see how much had dissipated and how much the booms had soaked up. Now we’re in the process of pulling all the saturated absorbent pads out of the water. There is a representative down here from the owner of the boat - basically environmental cleanup - he’s giving us instructions on what we should be doing and the Department of Environmental Protection is also on its way over. I feel confident we have it contained and we’re mopping up. It’s been a good opportunity for us to work with the Marine Department and the Coast Guard, everyone’s working well together. But it’s unfortunate.”
Representatives from the Nantucket Land & Water Council also surveyed the area of the waterfront that was impacted Monday evening and stated that it had spread past the Hy-Line dock, into the Easy Street basin, and beyond the Steamship Authority docks.
"It is imperative for all people using the harbor recreationally tomorrow to exercise caution when in or on the water," the Council stated. "This is also a great reminder to be cautious when refueling your boat, as environmental issues can arise quickly."