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Tugboat spills at least 300 gallons of gear oil

The tugboat was freed from where it ran aground in Wareham and towed to the Mass. Maritime Academy.

Steve Haines for The Boston Globe

The tugboat was freed from where it ran aground in Wareham and towed to the Mass. Maritime Academy.

Cleanup crews blocked parts of Buzzards Bay Thursday with booms and worked to clear the remnants of an oil sheen left by a tugboat that ran aground, spilling at least 300 gallons of gear oil, the Coast Guard said.

The 93-foot tugboat Justice was towed to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy from the spot near Stony Point Dike in Wareham where it ran aground at 12:01 a.m Thursday, a Coast Guard statement said. The spill closed the Cape Cod Canal from the early hours of the morning until 11:30 a.m.

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The boat’s starboard propeller assembly, from which the fluid was leaking, was sheared from its hull when it ran aground 2 miles south of the canal, said Adam Stanton, a Coast Guard spokesman.

A Coast Guard statement said the assembly was carrying 630 gallons of gear oil, a high-
viscosity lubricant used in ­engines to protect gears, but most of the fluid remained in the boat and the submerged propeller assembly appears to have stopped leaking.

Steve Haines for The Boston Globe

Deck hands Ray Smith (left), and Matt Fisher prepared a barge that will be used to salvage a piece of the tug that was sheared from its hull. The accident briefly closed the Cape Cod Canal.

“Gear oil is more persistent than fuel oil, and response personnel are already looking to quickly clean up any pockets of oil found,” the Coast Guard said.

Christopher Reddy, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who studies oil spills, said that unless the spill is much larger than reported the environmental impact will probably be minimal.

“Is a bird going to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and get oiled? Possibly,” Reddy said. “Is the fishing ­industry going to collapse? No.”

Reinauer Transportation Cos. , which owns the Justice, is working with the Coast Guard and the US Army Corps of Engineers to recover the starboard assembly, a statement from the company said.

“Environmental safety is of the utmost importance to ­Reinauer, and care of the environment is paramount,” said Bert Reinauer, the company’s vice president. “As soon as we learned about the accident, our emergency team rushed to the scene with our environmental cleanup crew to contain and clean up the spill.”

The crew members on the Justice passed alcohol tests ­after the grounding and are awaiting the results of a drug test, Reinauer said in the statement.

Booms have been deployed at the mouth of Buttermilk Bay and at Burgess Point to prevent the oil spreading to shellfish beds, and the state Division of ­Marine Fisheries has closed some fisheries in the area, said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.

The exact size of the spill is not known, but the sheen has spread across the southern end of the bay, the Coast Guard said. The good news: None of the vessel’s 38,000 gallons of fuel was spilled and the boat’s hull was undamaged, Stanton said.

In April 2003, a barge owned by Bouchard Transportation Co. ran aground and dumped 98,000 gallons of oil into Buzzard Bay. The company eventually paid $6 million to clean up the water and surrounding shore.

Todd Feathers can be reached
at todd.feathers@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter at @ToddFeathers.
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