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Tug collision spills unknown amount of diesel fuel in waters near Sitka

A freight barge collided with a tugboat, causing a spill of an unknown amount of diesel fuel into Neva Strait, approximately 18 miles northwest of Sitka.
Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 11:33 AM AKDT
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SITKA, Alaska (KTUU) - A freight barge collided with a tugboat, causing a spill of an unknown amount of diesel fuel into Neva Strait, approximately 18 miles northwest of Sitka, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The spill, detailed in a situation report published by the department, happened early Monday morning when the tugboat Western Mariner, owned by Seattle-based Western Towboat Co., was pulling the freight barge Chichagof Provider southeast down the Neva Strait.

According to the report, the steering on the tugboat failed just before 3 a.m. Monday, causing the barge to collide with the tugboat and push it up onto the beach, where it ground to a halt and began releasing diesel fuel. The Chichagof Provider was reportedly undamaged in the incident.

The report says that the amount of fuel spilled is unknown, but that the 83.7-foot Western Mariner estimated that upwards of 45,000 gallons could have been on board at the time of the grounding, and the port forward fuel tank, a known source of the spilled fuel, holds 13,000 gallons at most.

The spill was reported by Western Towboat Co. to the National Response Center at 4:46 a.m., according to the report. It also said a noticeable “silver and rainbow sheen” could be seen covering around four nautical miles of the strait.

Although a dive team aboard the Hanson Maritime arrived around 8 a.m. to minimize the damage and spill impact, the leak has not yet been contained, according to the report. A containment boom was deployed around the boat and a combined 1,500 feet of boom length is on the way onboard two separate ships: the oil spill response vessel Neka Bay, located in Juneau, and a “vessel of opportunity,” from Sitka.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hickory is also expected to arrive Wednesday, and an additional 9,000 feet of boom length is available in Sitka.

The report also says that while no schools of Pacific herring had been observed near Neva Strait, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game expect a potential “herring opening” as soon as Wednesday in nearby Hayward Strait.

A tug boat collided with a freight barge it was towing March 21, 2022, releasing an unknown...
A tug boat collided with a freight barge it was towing March 21, 2022, releasing an unknown amount of diesel oil near Sitka.(Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

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