Coast Guard continues response to pollution incident off San Juan Island

Sheen from diesel fuel from the Aleutian Isle sinking off San Juan Island.

Sheen from diesel fuel from the Aleutian Isle sinking off San Juan Island.

SEATTLE — Unified Command of Coast Guard, Washington State Department of Ecology, San Juan Office of Emergency Management and the Swinomish Tribe continue their coordinated response after a pollution incident occurred following the sinking of commercial fishing vessel Aleutian Isle west of San Juan Island, Washington, Saturday, Aug. 13.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 2,100 feet of boom was placed throughout the affected areas stretching from Smallpox Bay, near Sunset Point, to the south end of Henry Island. Observers on scene are using drone assets and other means to monitor the observable sheen to direct continued response action.

Commercial dive and salvage teams arrived on scene Saturday afternoon to remove the remaining fuel from the sunken vessel. With the arrival and staging of necessary equipment, including decompression chambers, dive operations began Monday to evaluate the condition of the Aleutian Isle and to remove potentially hazardous materials from the wreck. To ensure a safe work environment for divers, safety zones extending 1,000 yards around all responding dive boats were established at 7 a.m. and remain in effect.

Divers are working to plug the vents on the sunken vessel to stop the release of diesel fuel before they begin lightering operations to remove the remaining fuel from the vessel.

The Coast Guard continues to manage vessel traffic in the area. Crews on scene can be contacted directly on VHF marine-band radio channel 16.

Dive operations maintain the priorities of safety and efficiency as the situation on scene is dynamic and complex. A detached fishing net from the vessel has been observed in the waters nearby the dive operations, and crews are working to remove the netting to ensure the safety of divers, responders on scene, and wildlife. Additionally, the sunken vessel has shifted to deeper water, requiring further logistical considerations as underwater operations are carried out.

Along with the containment and recovery response for the preservation of ecologically sensitive areas, the protection of marine mammal species such as the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population continues to be a focal priority.

Partner agencies, including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others have staged specialized marine mammal acoustic deterrence teams in Snug Harbor. These deterrence methods of not been necessary as no SRKWs have been observed in the vicinity of the affected area.

The Department of Ecology continues to monitor air quality in nearby areas. No monitors have shown any result above background levels.

The Unified Command is working alongside partner agencies, including the Canadian Regional Operations Center, to track SRKWs utilizing hydrophone and sonogram technology. The whales were spotted near Port Angeles, heading west and away from San Juan Island as of Sunday evening and Monday morning.

An incident-specific webpage has been created by Washington Department of Ecology.

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