Boater pumps 50 gallons of gas into bilge prompting Oak Bluffs alarm

The gas was pumped into a rod holder filling the bilge and raising concerns of an explosion.

The gas filled boat was towed to the other side of the harbor where it was pumped out and sprayed with fuel dispersant. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs firefighters responded to Oak Bluffs Harbor on Wednesday following a report that a boater had pumped 50 gallons of fuel into the bilge of a 21.5-foot Aquasport fiberglass boat named Eagle. The boat was tied up at the town gas dock on the southeast side of the harbor.

Fire Chief John Rose said the owner had mistaken the boat’s rod holder for its gas fill pipe. The situation called for the utmost caution because there was no way to separate the contents of the bilge from the boat’s battery, and the slightest rocking could have kicked the bilge pump on and ignited an explosion, he said.

When firefighters arrived, they cordoned off what Chief Rose called a “safety area,” blocking pedestrians and cars from approaching the dock. He also had all ferry traffic in the harbor halted until the boat was removed from the line of traffic, and monitored all other incoming and outgoing boats.

After spraying the boat down with a chemical agent that displaces the balance of the gasoline and removes its flammability, firefighters towed the Eagle across the harbor to separate it from the fuel station. Two firefighters followed closely in the police and fire response boat, Red White and Blue, ready to act in the event of a fire and explosion.

“The priority was to get it away from the fuel dock and get it away from the people, over to where it was safer,” Chief Rose said. “You always want to prepare for the worst.”

Once on the opposite side of the harbor, firefighters vacuumed the fuel out of the boat and continued to spray it down with a chemical dispersant, as well as two adjacent boats and the surrounding dock.

Firefighters stood by in all their protective gear, hoses at the ready. Most of the gas was poured into the bilge, with a very small amount leaking into the harbor. Chief Rose said he was unsure exactly how much.

The boat’s owners declined to comment. Chief Rose said he believed the woman responsible for the gas spill is a seasonal resident.