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Grounded barge still full of fuel, seafood

November 24th, 2012 | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

Coast Guard rescuers reported no injuries to crew members of a tug and a barge that ran aground near Cold Bay last week. Efforts are getting underway to plug the leaks, and perhaps save the 1.4 million pounds of frozen seafood inside shipping containers, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The tug Polar Wind and barge Unimak Trader grounded on the south side of Ukolnoi Island, about 200 miles east-northeast of Dutch Harbor and 40 miles east of Cold Bay, at approximately 9 p.m. Nov. 13. The grounding was reported to the U.S. Coast Guard at approximately 10 p.m. and the conservation department was notified about an hour later.

An assessment team arrived on site Nov. 16 and reported a thin sheen of diesel fuel in the area. Overflights conducted by Global and Northland confirmed the sheen. The assessment team was unable to locate the exact source of the sheen. The amount of fuel and oil on board the Polar Wind has been revised to 20,580 gallons of diesel fuel and 1,800 gallons of lube and hydraulic oils. The barge Unimak Trader currently has 1,200 gallons on-deck fuel stores for the crane, forklift and generators located on the deck. Operational quantities of hydraulic and lubricating oils remain on both vessels.

The tug and barge were transiting from Sand Point to Dutch Harbor when they grounded. An investigation as to the cause of the grounding is ongoing by the Coast Guard and Northland Services. The tug Polar Wind is a 78-foot long by 30-foot wide vessel. The barge Unimak Trader is loaded with a crane, fork-lift, two generators and 90 refrigeration containers; 30 are operational and contain over 1,475,000 pounds of frozen seafood product, while 60 boxes are empty.

The five crew members were rescued from the vessel by the Coast Guard. The crew had no reported injuries. A unified command is formed with Northland Services, USCG and ADEC. Northland contracted Alaska Chadux to mitigate any potential pollution threats and with Global Diving and Salvage to provide incident management. On Nov. 16, an assessment team boarded the Polar Wind and discovered significant damage to the tug's propulsion and steering systems. No flooding of the vessel was observed. A second Assessment Team boarded the Unimak Trader on Saturday, Nov. 17, and discovered five of the forward below deck void spaces were under tidal influence. The generators were operational and powering the refrigerated seafood containers. Alaska Chadux placed a containment boom around the Polar Wind today to assist in control of the light sheen in the area. They are also deploying additional response equipment from ADEC equipment in King Cove and the Alaska Chadux Response Center in Anchorage. Salvage and cargo vessels are transiting to the area from Dutch Harbor and Homer to begin lightering operations and to offload the shipping containers from the barge. Defueling of the Polar Wind was scheduled to begin early this week and offloading the containers from the barge is scheduled to start in the middle of next week.

There are no reported impacts to wildlife. The area is used by waterfowl for overwintering including Stellar's eiders, which are listed as a threatened species on the Endangered Species Act. Sea otters are also present; this population is listed as a threatened species on the ESA. Harbor seals are present in the area. The grounding is within the designated critical habitat for Stellar sea lions and the southwest sea otter critical habitat.

Global Diving and Salvage will be developing a salvage plan for ADEC and USCG review. Chadux is developing a lightering plan for ADEC and USCG review.


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