Oil Spill Closes California Beaches

A sign warns of oil in the water at Fort Baker with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background near Sausalito, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Oil that leaked from a cargo ship after it bumped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has closed at least 16 beaches and is washing up as far as 40 miles north of San Francisco, the Coast Guard said Thursday.

About 58,000 gallons of oil spilled from the ship when it struck a tower supporting the bridge Wednesday morning in foggy weather. The accident caused no structural damage to the span, officials said, but the vessel's hull suffered a large gash. The ship has since anchored in the bay.

"By our guidelines it is a medium-sized spill. But in the San Francisco Bay Area, that is a big deal," said Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti, captain of the Port of San Francisco and the chief federal officer investigating the accident.

Crews in helicopters were surveying the damage and skimmers were sucking up the oil on the bay and ocean. Teams were also walking the shoreline scooping up the oil, authorities said.

Scientists were assessing the best cleanup techniques and the environmental impact. A small number of birds have been spotted coated in oil.

There is likely to be more trouble ahead for wildlife on the bay as CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports that oil is washing up around the shores of Alcatraz. The old prison and tourist attraction is also an important bird habitat. Blackstone adds that the job of containing oil on the bay will be made even more complicated by the strong tides and currents there.

The pilot of the ship was being interviewed by Coast Guard authorities. If he's to have acted negligently or recklessly, he could lose his state's pilot license.