Athos I Delaware River Oil Spill

BMF has been engaged in the highly specialized field of oil spill and vessel crisis communication since 1994.  Perhaps no other single vessel incident presented the large number of communications challenges as the November 2004 Athos I tanker incident in the Delaware River near Philadelphia, which resulted in the release of 265,000 gallons of heavy Venezuelan crude oil and significant economic and environmental impact on the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland areas.

Vessel owners engaged BMF approximately two weeks after the incident with large quantities of oil still in the river and along miles and miles of heavily populated and economically vital shoreline. Efforts by the vessel’s originally contracted communications firm proved inadequate to the large scope of the spill and the huge impact of the spill on hundreds of industrial complexes, boat clubs, residential communities, recreation sites and dockside facilities stretching all the way to Cape May.

BMF’s initial focus was to reconstitute the Joint Information Center (JIC), increase JIC staffing and create a better coordinated working dynamic with the Incident Command’s Liaison Officer to ensure the timely and coordinated flow of information from the Incident Command to and from the various stakeholders along the river.

" BMF’s work helped turn the tide of public and media opinion."

This newly energized outreach involved both the improved use of traditional media through more regularized press conferences and briefings, press releases, town hall meetings and tightly controlled media tours, and an aggressive and unprecedented street-based grassroots initiative that literally took the response to the stakeholders who included federal, state and local elected officials, state and county environmental and economic agencies, property owners, port officials, private boat owners and fishermen, processors and distributors who were concerned about the near and long-term impacts of the spill.

BMF quickly improved messaging and message delivery, and coordinated a team of Coast Guard personnel and BMF staff to “hit the road” daily for more than a month into dozens of counties and small communities along the four state riverfront area and open lines of communication with stakeholders who had been neglected or misinformed regarding the impacts of the spill, the progress and priorities of the response and the potential for long term impacts on the environment and economy.

BMF’s work helped turn the tide of public and media opinion, earning high marks for the response contractors in the field, and high praise from the Coast Guard which awarded BMF its second Meritorious Service Award for exceptional performance in oil spill response. The final evaluation of the incident response issued by the United States Coast Guard National Strike Team commented that the Public Affairs team performed exceptionally well.

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