A sunken fishing boat will be brought up near San Juan Island in Washington

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August 25, 2022

Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake retrieves a net from the sunken fishing vessel Aleutian Isle off San Juan Island, Wash., Aug. 17, 2022. Coast Guard Photo.

Two weeks after a fishing boat sank near San Juan Island in Washington state, a pollution response effort is now focused on raising the wreckage to a depth of 200 feet to recover its slowly leaking oil.

The 49-foot Aleutian Island took on water and sank around 2 p.m. on August 13. An unidentified Good Samaritan ship brought the five crew members to safety, as the Coast Guard launched a helicopter from Port Angeles Air Station, a 45ft response boat from Bellingham, and the cutter Swordfish 87 feet at the scene.

The cause of the sinking is under investigation.

Aleutian Island was carrying approximately 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of hydraulic fluid when it collapsed near Sunset Point on the west side of San Juan Island. With the boat’s crew accounted for, the Coast Guard embarked on a pollution control effort. Three hours after the sinking, Coast Guard crews reported a visible oil splinter two miles long and potentially drifting into Canadian waters.

The immediate response group was brought together, including the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Island Oil Spill Association and other wildlife groups and preservation. Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped with a “resource-at-risk assessment” and spill trajectory analysis to anticipate where pollution might drift.

Stakeholders were particularly concerned about protected marine mammals in the area, including the highly endangered southern Puget Sound population of killer whales. Coast Guard crews, NOAA personnel and members of the Whale Museum and Sound Watch remained on scene throughout the night using the acoustics of underwater hydrophones to monitor the affected area and surrounding waters for any activity. of whale.

Some killer whales were near the southern tip of San Juan Island at the time, but none in the affected area around the wreckage, the Coast Guard said.

Two days after the sinking, crews were using an absorbent boom to catch small amounts of oil that continued to leak from the sunken Aleutian Island. Cleanup surveys around nearby shorelines revealed minimal oil impact. However, commercial divers and rescuers working on the recovery effort discovered that the wreckage had moved into deeper water at around 200 feet deep.

The Coast Guard and its Unified Command partners focused on the potential environmental impact to the San Juan Island area if a major spill were to occur.

With the depth of the wreck posing a challenge to divers, a remotely operated vehicle was used on August 17 to confirm the ship was upright and its fuel tanks intact, according to a online narrative in progress by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The wreck’s floating netting posed a potential hazard to wildlife, and Coast Guard lifeguard Henry Blake was on hand to assist Aug. 17.

Henry Blake’s crew “recovered more nets, weighing 400 pounds, which were lifted by a crane out of the water. Approximately 1,400 feet of net have been recovered by the Henry Blake crew and dive teams over the past two days,” according to a statement from the Department of Ecology. “Five fruit bats were found entangled in a net, one of which was successfully released. No other animals were found entangled.

Diving on the wreckage 200 feet deep is difficult and dangerous. Divers must use specialized breathing gas mixtures at such depths. On top of that, “divers face the strong currents of Haro Strait,” according to state ecology officials. “Dive teams should wait for the peak of high tide or low tide, also known as ‘low tide’, before entering the water.”

Earlier this week, a barge and crane were en route from Seattle to lift the Aleutian Island. Monitoring is ongoing and Coast Guard crews even use drones to monitor any new oil sightings.

“Daily overflights have shown that the amount of shine remains minimal,” according to state officials. “Crews added an additional absorber boom to ensure ecologically sensitive areas were protected in the event a splinter approached the earth.”

A Coast Guard team uses a drone to monitor oil from the Aleutian Island wreck off San Juan Island, Washington. Coast Guard video image.
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