Emergency response stymied by language problems
The November 7 (2007) San Francisco Bay oil spill was worsened by a language barrier between the Chinese crew of the ship responsible, the M/V Cosco Busan, and first responders from the US Coast Guard, according to the first major report on the disaster.
Because USCG personnel had to use "drawings, visual aids and hand signals to help communicate" with the Chinese vessel's crewmen, according to the findings, the Coast Guard assumed falsely that only 140 gallons had spilled, far short of the actual estimated amount of 53,569 gallons. The US team was also unable to read the ship's pressure gauges.
According to the Coast Guard's report, environmental officials did not act quickly when they heard that such a comparatively small amount was involved. As a result, the 100 foot long gash in the Chinese hull pumped oil into the Bay for hours, unchecked. The Coast Guard didn't learn of the full extent of the spill for about eight hours.
"While it is not certain how much the early response would have changed knowing the true volume spilled, certainly it would have helped alert stakeholders in the San Francisco Bay area ... this was going to be a large scale response," the report, 130-pages long, stated.