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An oil spill at Port Manatee is under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard

Oil spill in water between a dock and a large ship.
United States Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating an oil spill at Port Manatee that left over 19,000 gallons of water. The origin of the spill is still unknown.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating an oil spill at Port Manatee that caused over 19,000 gallons of polluted water. With a lot of unknowns, environmentalists are calling for more transparency into details of the spill.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating an oil spill at Port Manatee that has caused over 19,000 gallons of polluted water.

The cause of the incident and the amount of oil spilled is still unknown, according to Coast Guard spokesperson, Petty Officer Nicole Groll.

"What we've been doing for the cleanup is a lot of vacuuming and a lot of absorbing," she said. "(The pollution cleanup personnel) are even raking the water to pull up debris."

Groll said nearly 6.5 tons of oil-ridden debris have been removed so far — and as of Wednesday morning, 90-95% of the surface oil is gone.

About 1,400 feet of floating barriers, or boom, are soaking up the material and helping to contain the spill.

Samples of the polluted oil-water mixture are being tested to pinpoint the origin of the spill. Any responsible party could receive civil penalties.

Groll said the area has no wildlife habitats and so far they have received no reports of wildlife or fish being killed.

Justin Tramble disagrees.

"There is without a doubt marine life in the impacted areas. There is without a doubt, connectivity between the areas that the oil spill happened and the Bay," Tramble, the executive director of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper said.

"I can't even imagine that argument, that there's no marine life in Port Manatee."

The organization made an incident report to the Coast Guard Friday afternoon alerting them to the spill.

But Tramble's biggest takeaway has been "the startling lack of information." He said that makes it difficult to gauge how big of an impact this will have on the Tampa Bay watershed.

"There's just not a lot of information. And for something like this to happen in or at the facility, you would think that there would be a better handle on these types of things," he said.

Tramble said it is important to keep the public informed.

"We're yet to be able to really understand the environmental impacts," he said. "We're yet to understand any potential health risks that the public should be made aware of."

Coast Guard officials continue to monitor the spill and believe it is contained to the port. But said if any boaters or recreators in the area see oil outside of the containment area to report it to the National Response Center.

SeaPort Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras issued a statement Thursday:

“Like several ports in Florida, SeaPort Manatee was closed during Hurricane Idalia. On Thursday, Aug. 31, a few days after Hurricane Idalia made landfall, SeaPort Manatee was inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard as part of its normal inspection process required before a port can reopen its shipping lanes. SeaPort Manatee received an ‘all clear’ from the Coast Guard, and shipping traffic resumed. The morning of Aug. 31, the port noticed a visible discoloration within the port’s basin and notified the National Response Center. The Coast Guard inspected and didn’t set any restrictions on vessel operations.

“On Sept. 1, the U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg returned with its response team to deploy boom and begin the clean-up process. Since Aug. 31, SeaPort Manatee’s team has been proactively collaborating with the Coast Guard to assist in response activities.

“Preserving the environment is among our top priorities, which is why we have fully continued partnering with the Coast Guard. We have also encouraged tenant businesses at the port to cooperate with the Coast Guard.

“The Coast Guard has inspected every area of the port, yet to date has been unable to identify the origin of the material. As part of the Coast Guard’s ongoing investigation, its officers have collected samples for type-testing, and we are hopeful its investigation will soon reveal the source.

“In the meantime, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts conducted an endangered species analysis of the area and reported no fish or wildlife is affected at this time.

“We are committed to being as transparent as possible with the public and will share new details as we learn them.

“We are sincerely thankful to our U.S. Coast Guard partners for springing into action and for their ongoing efforts, and we look forward to a timely resolution.”

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.