Petersburg Pilot -

 
 

Sunk tug at mill property no longer leaking diesel

 

Brian O'Connor

A life raft deployed off the 60-foot tug Silver Bay II floats among diesel oil Thursday next to a barge off the mill property. The barge is no longer leaking diesel or hydraulic fluid into the surrounding water.

Wrangell - A 60-foot tug that sank in 80 to 85 feet of water Jan. 14 was capped Friday and is no longer leaking fuel into Shoemaker Bay, authorities said.

Assessment divers from Ketchikan-based Alaska Commercial Divers dove on the wreck Friday and were able to cap both diesel tanks and a hydraulic tank, and close a valve linking hydraulic equipment on board to the tank said Coast Guard Petty Officer Scott Wakefield. Divers had been delayed from diving on the wreck until Friday evening because of intransitable weather between Ketchikan and Wrangell.

Silver Bay Logging employees said they were at the mill site monitoring barges and other equipment because of heavy winds Tuesday afternoon. They returned from nearby offices after notifying the property owner they were on site, only to discover the barge had sunk. In all, they estimated the sinking occurred in about 15 minutes.

The Silver Bay II had been docked at the mill property for the past five years and diesel fuel removed intermittently, according to the final situation report issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Tuesday afternoon, making it difficult to determine how much diesel was aboard at the time of the sinking.

Officials from the Coast Guard had originally estimated the tug to be sunk in about 120 feet of water, but revised those estimates after divers approached the scene. Oil booms and absorbent material booms remain in place, though most sheening at the site had stopped, Wakefield said.

DEC officials estimate approximately 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel were on board when the tug went down Tuesday afternoon. Coast Guard officials estimate between 500 and 1,000 gallons might have been released into the surrounding waters. Authorities still suspect the weather played a role in the sinking, though officials won't know the official cause unless the boat is raised.

"The property owner and his rep are working on salvaging it," Wakefield said. "I'm not stating it's definitely going to happen."

Greg Updike, a diver with Alaska Commercial, estimated the water's depth between 80 and 90 feet depending on the tide.

"We don't typically enter the boats when they're on the bottom," he said. "They're just too dangerous."

Sarah Moore, a State On Scene officer with the DEC, said at least three local beaches – Shoemaker Park Beach, the Wrangell Institute Property Beach, and 8 Mile Beach - had been investigated for possibly containing diesel fuel. 8 Mile Beach was found to be unaffected, Moore said.

Authorities were trying "to make sure people not eat anything that sheens or has an odor of diesel," she said.

The DEC advises against subsistence shellfish harvesting because of the possibility for paralytic shellfish poisoning, Moore said.

 

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