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Athos I Oil Spill

On November 26, 2004, the 750-foot tanker Athos I, carrying 13 million gallons of crude oil, struck an uncharted submerged anchor while she made her approach to the CITGO Asphalt Refining Facility in the Delaware River outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The ship’s hull was breached and the vessel acquired an eight-degree list, causing the engines to shut down, immobilizing the vessel. The breached hull began releasing more than 263,000 gallons of crude oil into the tidal water of the busy Delaware River shipping route. Due to the significant list the vessel had acquired, it could not make berth at the facility and was forced to anchor in the immediate vicinity of where the casualty occurred. 

Upon receiving report of the incident, the Coast Guard contacted NOAA’s Mid-Atlantic Scientific Support Coordinator and requested initial oil trajectories and spot weather forecasts. OR&R personnel were deployed on-scene and joined the Unified Command in the Environmental Unit (EU). OR&R personnel served as the EU leader, which coordinated shoreline cleanup assessment technique (SCAT) surveys, wildlife recovery, and natural resource damage assessment (NRDA).

Spilled oil washed up on 280 miles of shoreline, which impacted Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. The spilled oil resulted in the loss of approximately 12,000 birds. Due to the heavy characteristics of the crude oil, submerged oil proved to be a challenge and resulted in the shutdown of two reactors at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant as a safety precaution when submerged oil was found in the sediment below cooling water intakes. The shutdown lasted 11 days and resulted in a loss of $33 million. The spill also halted commercial traffic in the active shipping route for more than a week and delayed over 200 vessels, resulting in $162.6 million in claims paid to affected businesses. 

The OR&R team played a crucial role, both during and after the response, being instrumental in estimating when the river was safe for the power plant to restart operations, and heavily involved in analyzing the environmental impacts. The response continued until May 2005. In 2010, trustees received $27.5 million for ten restoration projects designed to benefit the environment, coastal communities, and the economy in the Delaware River watershed.

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