Final preparations underway for lifting fishing vessel Aleutian Isle

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 – Response crews working to salvage the fishing vessel Aleutian Isle successfully rigged all required cables to lift the vessel out of the water and place on a barge near Sunset Point on San Juan Island Friday.

The 58-foot fishing vessel spent over a month under 200 feet of water in Haro Strait, after it sank on Aug. 13 off the west side of San Juan Island, Washington.

The exact date and time of the imminent lift depends on tide, current, and onscene weather conditions. In preparation, the Unified Command is executing a pollution mitigation strategy to minimize fuel leaks. Dive crews already plugged all known fuel vents and secured all valves, but it is likely that there will be sheening visible during the lift operations from fuel coming free that was trapped in the vessel.

It is difficult to predict how much fuel might come out. The anticipated amount could cause a moderate sheen, but not enough to cause significant environmental risk. Regardless, preparations are being made for a much larger discharge.

It is important to remember that even small quantities of diesel fuel spread quickly, and unlike heavier oils, diesel can be very difficult to recover. Diesel fuel vaporizes quickly, which causes it to stay in the environment for less time than other fuels. The goal is to prevent any spilling, however, experts and extensive resources are being used and ready to respond to any size release.

Currently, 7,300 feet of boom are already deployed in geographically sensitive areas with much more on stand-by. Aerial surveys are done multiple times daily, and equipment like skimmers are available to deploy. Wildlife monitoring crews such as Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) teams continue to patrol ecologically sensitive areas and whale deterrence teams are ready to deploy if any species of whale come near the response. Additional teams will be on the water to look for wildlife and deter birds away from any sheening as well as community air monitoring.

Once the boat is lifted, it will be placed on a barge that is lined with protective barriers to prevent additional pollution, and the barge will be fully boomed as an additional precaution. Once secured, the recovered vessel will be barged to a mainland facility for assessment.

The 1,000-yard safety zone continues to be in-place until Sept. 26. Boaters who violate the safety zone and cause severe wakes endanger response personnel. Unlawfully entering the safety zone can impede the operation of heavy equipment. This complicated phase of recovery, working in extreme depths, requires optimal environmental conditions and tidal currents conducive for raising the vessel.

To contact the U.S. Coast Guard directly reach out on VHF marine-band radio channel 16. Persons violating the safety zone can receive a civil penalty. The Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) around the Aleutian Isle wreck site has been extended until Oct. 15. This TFR is in effect for both manned and unmanned aircraft. Response crews are working under very challenging conditions and aircraft can be a distraction.

If the public sees uncontained sheening, please call the National Response Center at: 800-424-8802. If you encounter oiled wildlife, please contact 800-22-BIRDS.

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