Hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel leaked into New Bedford Harbor this morning, coating parts of the nation’s leading fishing port with a red-tinged sheen and leading authorities to a large effort to keep the spill from spreading.
By noon, public safety and environmental officials said the local fire department had contained the fuel with more than 1,000 feet of boom, which isolates the fuel on the surface of the water, and began deploying thousands of special pads to soak up the flammable liquid.
Between 100 and 300 gallons of diesel gathered in several pockets over about a half-mile from the Fish Island Bridge to Pier 3, said New Bedford Deputy Fire Chief Paul Coderre Jr.
He said the leak occurred sometime last night, but neither he nor other authorities had been able to identify the source of the leak.
“We may not know what caused this,’’ Coderre said.
The busy port south of Boston experiences similar spills about five or six times a year and smaller sheens of fuel coat the surface of the harbor every week, he said. New Bedford Harbor last year landed more than 130 million pounds of fish, valued at $306 million, more than any other port in the country, according to the harbormaster’s office.
“In context for the harbor, this is a minor incident,’’ Coderre said. “We never shut down the harbor. We’re going on as usual.’’
Joining firefighters at the scene were representatives of the US Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The Coast Guard is leading the investigation into the spill and planned to analyze the fuel in an effort to identify the source, said Ed Coletta, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman. He said the Coast Guard was also checking boats and security cameras in the area to find the source.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Myeonghi Clegg said it was unclear whether their investigators would find the source.
“The cause remains under investigation,’’ she said.
Coletta noted the leak pales in comparison to what was considered a major spill in 2003, when about 98,000 gallons of oil destined for a nearby power plant leaked from a barge in Buzzards Bay.
Coderre said most of the oil should be recovered today, but the cleanup would last several days.
“We will probably be chasing some minor areas of buildup,’’ Coderre said.
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