A widespread storm that swept across Florida left a fuel spill in Hillborough Bay near Tampa, as the Coast Guard scrambled to assist more than 20 vessels in distress Sunday.

Boat and aircrews of Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg responded to multiple calls about recreational boats displaced in the storm. The storm, an unusual low-pressure system with tropical-like rainfalls, continued to make its way up the East Coast past Charleston, S.C., where it pushed a high tide Sunday morning that at 9.62 feet above mean low water rivaled flooding from Hurricane Idalia, according to the National Weather Service.

Sector St. Petersburg Incident Management crews and partner agencies responded to a diesel discharge from the 63-foot fishing vessel Miss Jordi, which sank off Tampa Shrimp Docks during the storm. The vessel has a maximum capacity of holding 10,000 gallons of fuel, and was reported to have about 2,000 gallons on board. Pollution responders are on scene and cleanup efforts are ongoing, with the cause of the sinking under investigation, according to the Coast Guard. 

Tampa police were searching Sunday night for Miss Jordi's captain, Curtis Lee Cowling. Police said they believe Cowling lives on the boat full time. It's not known if he was there at there of the sinking but is now considered “missing and endangered,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Tampa police were searching for Curtis Lee Cowling, captain of the Miss Jordi, after his shrimp boat sank in Hillsborough Bay Dec. 16. Tampa Police Department photo/via Tampa Bay Times.

“Coast Guard and contracted pollution responders are on scene cleaning up the spill,” said Cmdr. Fredrick Pugh, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg response department head. “We ask that people stay out of the area so crews can work swiftly and safely. Reports of pollution may be directed to the National Response Center at 800-424-8802.”

The Coast Guard was tracking a diesel spill in Tampa Bay after a shrimp boat sank at the dock during the Dec. 16-17 weekend storm. Coast Guard video image.

On the Florida Gulf coast, a Coast Guard Station Cortez boat crew notified Sector St. Petersburg watchstanders of two sailing vessels pinned against Cortez Bridge, which connects Bradenton Beach with Cortez. The boat crew arrived on scene, located and rescued a mariner aboard one of the two vessels. The person was brought back to the station. 

Station St. Petersburg crews investigated an unmanned and adrift kayak in the vicinity of Howard Frankland Bridge, connecting Tampa with St. Petersburg. Crews searched the area, but didn’t see anyone in distress. 

The operator of a 34-foot sailboat out during the storm reported to Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg watchstanders that he was up against the seawall in shallow water near Gulfport Casino. Watchstanders maintained communications with the owner and when the storm passed, the operator was able to navigate out of the area under his own power. 

“In a situation where a vessel becomes adrift, the best course of action is to contact your local Coast Guard sector command center with the description and registration number of your vessel,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Caroline Dotson, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg command center watchstander.

“In times of adversity, we are committed to doing everything within our capacity to support our local marine community. We recommend everyone check the local weather reports and secure their vessels when forecasted bad weather is incoming .”

The Dec. 17 storm raised a storm tide over 9 feet above mean low water at Charleston, S.C. National Weather Service graphic.


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