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Press Release | May 1, 2024

Coast Guard oversees oil clean-up efforts off Pier 9 in San Juan Harbor, Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Coast Guard Sector San Juan Incident Management personnel continue oil clean-up oversight efforts, Wednesday, for an unknown discharge source that is affecting San Juan Harbor’s Pier 9 and the nearby land-based storm drainage system.

Coast Guard Incident Management Division personnel are monitoring the oil discharged within the storm drainage system, which is being contained and recovered periodically by contracted oil recovery crews.

“The discharged oil is being contained and recovered,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ray Lopez, Sector San Juan Incident Management Division Chief. “We suspect this spill may be tied to an unidentified inactive historical source that for years has resulted in a series of mystery spills along the Old San Juan waterfront. We are coordinating with the necessary local government and federal partner agencies and industry specialists to conduct research and apply technologies to identify and contain the source of the spill to protect public health and the environment from further impacts.”

As response efforts continue to identify and secure the discharge source, the Coast Guard urges the public to not expose themselves or touch any oil product that may be accessible from the storm drains, manholes or the affected waterway.

The Coast Guard first responded to this present oil discharge April 1, 2024, after Puerto Rico Ports Authority reported sighting oil in the water just off the Pier 9 area in Old San Juan.  The initial response identified a storm drain system heavily oiled with what appeared to be a type of bunker oil.  Sample analysis received on April 18, 2024, identified the oil substance as heavy petroleum oil. These samples from Pier 9 have characteristics somewhat similar to the samples from the 2021 mystery oil spill at Pier 4. These important similarities indicate these samples may be related to each other through a common source of petroleum oil.

Due to the potential impact to the nearby waterway, the Coast Guard activated the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and contracted Clean Harbor Environmental Services, Inc. as the Oil Spill Removal Organization for the incident.  Cleanup crews have conducted multiple oil recovery operations using vacuum truck systems and have installed absorbent boom inside multiple manholes to collect discharged oil. Cleanup crews have also installed containment boom across Pier 9 to prevent any oil from further spreading inside the harbor.

Upcoming clean-up operations include planning for a sub-surface site assessment of the affected area to help identify any free oil product and provide recommendations for response recovery strategies. Once the site assessment is completed, the data will be used to develop a strategy to identify and contain a potential discharge source and recover the oil.

As efforts continue, the Coast Guard is communicating and coordinating with local and federal government agencies and the Caribbean Regional Response Team to keep them informed on the status and progress of the response.

To date, oil recovery crews estimate to have collected approximately 17 drums (920 gallons) of absorbent materials and 850 gallons of product, for a total of 1,770 gallons recovered. The amount of oily water waste or oil product discharging from the source is yet to be determined.

People looking to report oil pollution in the water may contact the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

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