Sunday, October 2, 2022
Oct. 2, 2022

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Crews begin removing oil, fuel from sunken boat near San Juan Island


SEATTLE — Commercial divers and salvage teams on Monday began removing remaining diesel and other potential pollutants on the Aleutian Isle, a 49-foot vessel that sunk Saturday west of San Juan Island.

Crews will get to the vessel, which is in 100 feet of water, using two decompression chambers, according to Petty Officer Michael Clark of the U.S. Coast Guard 13th District Pacific Northwest.

A safety zone of 1,000 yards around the sunken vessel west of Sunset Point was put in place Monday as well as specialized marine mammal-deterrence teams staged in Snug Harbor by the Washington Department of Fish and Game, according to the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard received a distress call that the vessel was taking on water at about 2 p.m. Saturday. All five crew members were rescued by good Samaritans before the Coast Guard arrived, Clark said.

The crew estimated there was about 2,500 gallons of diesel out of 4,000-gallon capacity onboard and 100 gallons or so of lubricant and other oils used in boat engines, according to Ty Keltner, communications manager for the state Department of Ecology’s Spill Program.

Booms with absorbent material have been deployed to protect shoreline and other environmentally sensitive areas, he said.

The Coast Guard said a contracted vessel spent nine hours Sunday setting out about 2,100 feet of booming. Divers were on the scene Monday finding the best way to secure vents on the vessel so the tanks can be emptied.

A tank to house the offloaded fuel is at the scene.

While diesel is a petroleum product, it differs vastly from crude oil, according to Keltner. In 1989, 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. More than 200 million gallons of crude shot from BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Diesel and gasoline are much lighter than crude oil and can evaporate in the kind of warm weather we are experiencing in the region, he said.

Keltner said once all potential pollutants are removed from the vessel, the decision will be made about recovering the boat.

Reports late Sunday from the Orca Network, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sound Watch and the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor indicated the southern resident killer whale population was not in the immediate area of the spill, Clark said.

Investigators are working to determine what happened onboard the boat in the minutes before it sank, Clark said.

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