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Port Manatee recovers from a mysterious oil spill as investigations continue

Port staff cleaning ship's hulls at Port
United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard workers collect oil samples for analysis.

SeaPort Manatee is slowly getting back up on its feet after the recent oil leak that polluted over 20,500 gallons of seawater.

SeaPort Manatee is slowly reopening for business following the unexplained oil leak that left over 20,500 gallons of polluted water in its basin two weeks ago.

In a coordinated effort, the U.S. Coast Guard, along with the port crew and other pollution responders, were able to successfully remove 99% of the surface oil and water mixture from the area. They also cleaned the oil-contaminated debris that was in the ship hulls and sea walls.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported from their X account (formerly known as Twitter) that around 4,000 feet of floating barriers, or boom, were removed from the water. This was the main tool used to soak up the material as well as vacuuming and absorbing.

Carlos Busqueras, SeaPort Manatee executive director, expressed his gratitude for the U.S. Coast Guard's swift response and their commitment to resolving the situation as quickly as possible. He pledged transparency with the public and promised to share details as they come up.

After analyzing samples from the oil, officials believe some of the leaked material is heavy fuel oil, which is a byproduct of the crude oil refinement process.

As of now, no concrete evidence of infrastructure failures — regarding the source of the spill — or pipeline leaks have been reported.

Under Capt. Michael Kahle, the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating this case and looking for those responsible.

Vern Buchanan Manatee Spill
Congressman Vern Buchanan
/
Courtesy
Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan examines the oil spill at SeaPort Manatee.

Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan toured the facility Friday morning. He emphasized the importance of finding those accountable and stressed that they’ll need to bear the costs for the cleanup operations, especially if this incident was a ‘hit and run’.

“Our local waterways, environment, and marine life are incredibly important to area residents and Florida’s tourism-based economy,” Buchanan said in a news release. “It looks increasingly likely that someone may have dumped this oil and is failing to come forward. Whether an accident or purposeful, any potential bad actors must be held accountable for putting our waterways at risk.”

While the cleanup procedures were successful, the focus remains on determining the origin of this oil spill and ensuring that those responsible face the consequences.

Fortunately, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that no immediate harm had been done to fish or wildlife after conducting an endangered species analysis.

Environment advocates disagree with this claim and believe that there are, without a doubt, environmental impacts and potential health risks involved in this leak.

SeaPort Manatee is the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the expanded Panama Canal. It generates more than $5.1 billion in annual economic impact while providing for more than 37,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The port moves more than 11 million tons of containerized, breakbulk, bulk, and project cargo each year including fresh produce, forestry products, petroleum products and other materials.

João Victor Pina is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for fall of 2023.