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News / Clark County News

Derelict vessels in Columbia River will be removed, Coast Guard says

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 1, 2022, 3:44pm

Two derelict vessels will be removed from the Columbia River in September because they are discharging oil into the river and pose a collision hazard, according to a statement from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The wrecks of the Alert and the Sakarissa rest on the bottom of the river off Hayden Island, west of the Interstate 5 Bridge.

The Coast Guard along with other agencies on Wednesday approved a plan to remove the vessels from the water.

The removal comes after thousands of gallons of diesel and oily water were removed from the vessels in 2020.

Abandoned ships, otherwise known as derelict vessels, can cause significant environmental damage, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The boats can destroy sensitive habitats. They can sink or move during storms, disperse toxins and endanger marine life.

The boats are two of the 129 abandoned ships scattered up and down the Columbia River.

The Alert was commissioned in 1926, and it was meant to catch illegal alcohol smugglers on the West Coast from San Diego to Alaska and the Bering Sea. In World War II, it became a sub-chaser. It was decommissioned in 1969.

The Sakarissa was commissioned in 1943 and acted as a tow boat. It traveled to the New Hebrides Islands, the Philippine Islands, the U.S. via the Marshall Islands, and Pearl Harbor, reaching San Francisco. It was taken out of service in 1974.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office went on board the vessels in January 2020 and noticed a large amount of diesel in the bottom of one of them, said Scott Smith, emergency response planner with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The Oregon DEQ then directed contractors to remove all the oil and hazardous materials, costing about $146,000 combined for that incident alone.

In November of last year, the Alert sank. Shortly after, the Sakarissa sank.

Dive assessments to determine the safest way to raise and transport the two vessels will be conducted in early September, with the plan of raising the ships throughout the rest of the month.

While work is ongoing, parts of the area will be closed to public access.

Funding to remove the vessels comes from two sources, up to $1 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to raise and transport the vessels and safely pump any remaining oil and from the Oregon Department of State Lands, with funding support from Metro, to assume custody of the vessels for final disposal.

Columbian staff writer