Ship Types 101 – San Francisco Bay Bridge Oil Tanker Collision

I have been amazed lately by the number of errors in both media reports and political commentary related to the the container ship Cosco Busan that allided with San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. We first reported on the confusion between the words allision and collision but that debate is mostly semantic. The errors have grown as the debate has reached a national audience.

The most troubling mistake is reports that infer or flatly state the vessel is a tanker. This mistake has been made numerous times as can be seen by doing a simple google news search for the incorrect term but most seriously in USA Today’s, America’s most widely distributed newspaper, headline (page A6 of November 12th’s edition): “Coast Guard: Tanker crew tested for substances.”

The media is not the only “informed” party making this mistake. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a statement by San Francisc’s mayor:

Newsom saw the disaster as an even larger statement on the weakness of America’s dependence on oil.

“We can do better than large oil tankers coming in and out of the bay of San Francisco, and move to a more energy independent future,” he said at Crissy Field. “We’ll continue to have these kinds of disasters inevitably if we continue to have more tankers come in and out to feed our addiction.”

So for those in the media or with a passing interest here is a picture of an Oil Tanker and the Cosco Busan:

Tanker

Oil Tanker

Container Ship

Container Ship Cosco Busan

The major difference between the two is: a tanker transports liquids and a container ship transports containers filled with solids (i.e. toys, home furnishings, industrial supplies…). So before the flood of emails arrive… if the ship that hit the San Francisco Bay Bridge was not transporting any liquids why did it have 58,000 gallons aboard? The answer is… for the same reason your car carries 24 gallons of gasoline.

The fuel spilled in the bay was all to be used by the ship’s enormous engines during the long transit back to China. Had this ship been an oil tanker the spill could have been as large as the one caused by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez… then again probably not since the oil in those ships are now required to be protected by a double hull.