Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in the San Francisco Bay area, where hundreds of workers are trying to contain the oil spill from a cargo ship that struck a support tower of the Bay Bridge.

After meeting with state, federal and local officials at a command post at Fort Mason, the governor said he is satisfied with the pace and scope of clean-up efforts. The emergency proclamation he signed today makes additional state personnel and equipment available to speed up the process.

Schwarzenegger also directed a state office charged with preventing and responding to oil spills to dip into an industry-financed trust fund to help pay for the cleanup.

Local officials and environmentalists criticized the Coast Guard for initially underreporting the amount of oil that leaked when a South Korea-bound container ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in dense fog Wednesday morning.

About 58,000 gallons poured into the water in what's believed to be the biggest spill in the bay since 1988.

Click here for photos.

But more than 12 hours after the incident, Coast Guard officials were still saying just 140 gallons had leaked, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who said the city would consider legal action against anyone found liable.

"We would have responded differently if we had accurate information from the get-go," said Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard. City workers, for instance, would have initially laid more boom lines to contain the oil, he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer also criticized the Coast Guard's response in a letter sent Thursday to Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen, saying she was "very troubled by the Coast Guard's delay in delivering accurate information to the public and the city of San Francisco. Many questions remain as to why it took an entire day to determine the gravity of this spill."

Tides carried a plume of heavy fuel beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific Ocean. By Thursday afternoon, oil had been sighted as far north as Stinson Beach, about 15 miles north of the city, and more than a dozen beaches in the area have been closed.

"What we have here are ribbons of oil just going all over the place," Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti, captain of the Port of San Francisco, said after an aerial survey.

The ship, called Cosco Busan, had just left the Port of Oakland and was proceeding to sea when it hit the bridge around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The accident caused no structural damage to the Bay Bridge, officials said, but the vessel's hull suffered a large gash.

A Coast Guard log of Wednesday's events obtained by The Associated Press showed the Coast Guard briefed city officials around 1:25 p.m.

However, the log also suggests that both the ship's crew and some Coast Guard personnel vastly underestimated the scope of the spill at first.

About two hours after the collision, engineers aboard the cargo ship estimated about 146 gallons of fuel had leaked.

The Coast Guard began receiving reports from its own personnel that suggested a much bigger spill, including oil washing up on piers miles away, and "oiled birds and wildlife." Yet at 4:49 p.m., a team of Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Game and San Francisco police officials estimated "400 gallons in the water total," according to the log.

Uberti disputed that, saying Coast Guard personnel knew the full extent of the spill by around 4 p.m. He said the Coast Guard and private response firms responded immediately after the incident, and he rejected any suggestion that the crews could have contained the spill more quickly.

"We mobilized as if it was a big spill right away," said Uberti.

A series of factors appeared to contribute to the slow assessment. The ship's crew could not use its normal means of determining how much fuel had escaped because some of the equipment was damaged in the collision, authorities said.

Instead, they were forced to heat the gelatinous remaining fuel and transfer it to a different tank, then measure it, the officials said.

Other normal means of measuring the spill, such as visual assessments by boat or plane, were hampered by the fog, said Lt. Rob Roberts, an investigator with the California Department of Fish and Game.

"It was hard to see what was going on down at the waterline," he said.

Meanwhile, a hazy film of oil surrounded Alcatraz Island, and the plume extended well north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge. The petroleum was the bunker fuel that powers ships' engines and contains many contaminants.

"This is a very environmentally sensitive area, so it's of great concern," said Uberti, who canceled the swim portions of two triathlons scheduled for this weekend because of health concerns.

The coast north of San Francisco ranges from sandy beaches to barren cliffs to sensitive marshes. Environmentalists fear the impact on shorebirds, fish and marine mammals could be felt for months, even years.

At least six oil-soaked birds were found dead, the Department of Fish and Game said.

"We're looking at almost everything being affected," said Sejal Choksi of the environmental group San Francisco Baykeeper.

Some 9,500 gallons of fuel was recovered, and 18,000 feet of booms were in place by Thursday afternoon, the Coast Guard said. Crews aboard two helicopters surveyed the damage as 11 skimmers sucked up the oil on the bay and ocean. Teams also walked the shoreline assessing and scooping up the oil.

The pilot, Capt. John Cota, was interviewed by Coast Guard authorities. He and other crew members were tested Wednesday morning for drugs and alcohol, and the results were negative.

If investigators conclude Cota acted negligently, he could lose his state-issued pilot license, Uberti said.

Cota did not respond to a call for comment Thursday.

He is in good standing and is one of the most experienced of the 60 captains who guide ships into the bay, said Patrick Moloney, executive director of the San Francisco Pilots Commission.

Cota has been involved in a few minor incidents during his 25 years on the bay, most recently when he ran aground in San Pablo Bay about a year and a half ago, according to Moloney. He received a letter of reprimand for that incident, according to Moloney.

Cosco Buson, built in 2001, is owned by Hong Kong-based Regal Stone Ltd., which had leased it to South Korea-based Hanjin Shipping for the voyage.

Barry McFarley, whose private recovery firm the O'Brien Group was hired by the ship's owner to handle its response to the spill, apologized to the public.

"I'd like to express our concern and regret that this incident occurred and assure the community and the public in the San Francisco Bay area that we're making every effort and (using) every resource available," he said.

City officials say they were still being told more than 12 hours after a ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in dense fog that only 140 gallons of oil had spilled into the bay.

But Coast Guard officials have said they knew hours earlier that the spill dumped 58,000 gallons.

Rear Admiral Craig Bone doesn't explain the delay but insists the Coast Guard's response to the incident was immediate and aggressive.

Wildlife Threatened

Dozens of dead and injured seabirds were found coated in black goo and are the most visible victims of a 58,000 gallon oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, which scientists say could threaten wildlife for years.

The spill fouled miles of coastline, sending environmentalists scrambling Thursday to save the bay's birds, fish, invertebrates and marine mammals.

"The effects of the oil spill could persist for months and possibly years," said Tina Swanson, a fish biologist with the Bay Institute.

Meanwhile, questions persisted about why the Coast Guard took so long to report the scope of the spill.

The oil spilled from a South Korea-bound container ship when it struck a tower supporting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in dense fog Wednesday. The accident did not damage the span, but the vessel's hull was gashed, officials said.

Tides carried a plume of heavy fuel beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific Ocean. By Thursday afternoon, oil had been sighted about 15 miles north of the city, and at least eight beaches in San Francisco and Marin County were closed.

Wildlife rescue workers and volunteers combing beaches have found dozens of dead and injured seabirds coated in black oil, said Michael Ziccardi, director of the California Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Ten to 15 teams were to be dispatched Friday to search for more.

More than 30 oiled birds, mostly surf scoters that live on the water's surface, were taken to a mobile treatment center in San Francisco's Fort Mason, Ziccardi said. Most will be taken to a wildlife care center to be cleaned and rehabilitated before being released into the wild.

The oil seeps into the birds' skin, leaving them unable to maintain their body temperature, he said. Once covered in oil, the birds are forced to move ashore where they are at risk of starvation.

Wildlife officials are concerned that the region's sea lions and harbor seals could also be affected, though there were no confirmed reports Thursday of injured marine mammals.

The oil spill is bad news for the region's fish and fishermen.

Herring, the bay's only commercially fished species, spawn at this time of year, and the spill could affect the fishing season that begins in January, said Zeke Grader, who heads the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association.

The spill could threaten steelhead and chinook salmon that travel through the bay to spawning grounds in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers during the fall, Grader said.

Scientists also are worried about the spill's effect on the longfin smelt, whose population has reached record low levels this year. In August, environmental groups petitioned state and federal agencies to list it as an endangered species.

"This is exactly the kind of event that can push a species into extinction," said Swanson, of the Bay Institute.

As scientist worried about the future of the region's wildlife, authorities questioned the Coast Guard's response in the hours after the spill.

More than 12 hours after the incident, Coast Guard officials were still saying just 140 gallons had leaked, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who said the city would consider legal action against anyone found liable.

"We would have responded differently if we had accurate information from the get-go," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. City workers, for instance, would have initially laid more boom lines to contain the oil, he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer also criticized the Coast Guard's response in a letter sent Thursday to Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen, saying she was "very troubled by the Coast Guard's delay in delivering accurate information to the public and the city of San Francisco. Many questions remain as to why it took an entire day to determine the gravity of this spill."

Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti, captain of the Port of San Francisco, said Coast Guard personnel knew the full extent of the spill by around 4 p.m. He rejected any suggestion that the crews could have contained the spill more quickly.

"We mobilized as if it was a big spill right away," said Uberti.

Some 9,500 gallons of fuel was recovered, and 18,000 feet of booms were in place by Thursday afternoon, the Coast Guard said.

Authorities were still investigating the cause of the crash.