Diesel spill cleanup efforts continue near Sitka

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is continuing efforts to clean up diesel fuel spilled by a tug that ran aground in Neva Strait.
Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 3:11 PM AKDT
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SITKA, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reported that the ongoing diesel fuel cleanup efforts in Neva Strait have collected 15 cubic yards over the last four days, and no major impacts to wildlife have been reported.

The tugboat Western Mariner ran aground, spilling diesel fuel into Neva Strait near Sitka on March 21 The tug was towing the Chichagof Provider container ship south through Neva Strait when it lost steering capabilities, causing the Chichagof Provider to collide with the Western Mariner, which was pushed ashore and began leaking from the port forward fuel tank.

According to the fourth situation report from the unified command of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Western Towboat Company who owns the tug boat, no fuel has exited the Western Mariner since Thursday, and all remaining fuel tanks were emptied on Saturday. An additional 500 feet of containment boom were added on Friday, and two layers of containment boom remain around the Western Mariner.

“There is no longer enough fuel within the secondary containment to support skimming operations,” the report said. “Any remnant sheen within the boom configuration continues to be addressed with absorbent materials. A total of 1,750 gallons of oily water was skimmed from within the containment boom.”

Hanson Maritime and Global Diving and Salvage Inc. continue to work on repairs on the Western Mariner, to prepare the vessel for salvage operations. In the situation report, Global Diving and Salvage estimates that the boat carried 43,500 gallons of fuel at the time it hit the shore — 32,080 gallons of which were clean fuel and 11,625 gallons of which were mixed oil and water that were recovered from within the tug boat.

Additionally, the report states that “15 cubic yards of saturated absorbents have been generated.”

The report said that a flight over the spill area on March 26 saw a silver sheen that remained isolated in Neva Strait. No visible sheen was observed outside of Neva Strait on March 26.

The report states that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened the Sitka Sound herring sac roe fishery from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Saturday. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Environmental Conservation issued multiple seafood safety recommendations for herring egg and other subsistence harvests in the area. Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries issued a herring fishery update for Sitka Sound yesterday.

“Because the State of Alaska has a zero tolerance policy with respect to fuel contamination of seafood, the department will not open a commercial fishery or conduct test fishing in areas where there is a risk of fuel contamination of gear, vessels, or harvested fish,” the commercial fisheries report said.

The situation report stated that a Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique team began an informal survey on Friday which did not report sheening near lagoons and beaches around the Magoun Islands, but did note several deaths of invertebrates in close proximity to the Western Mariner, including one sea cucumber carcass.

“No other impacted or potentially impacted wildlife have been collected or captured,” the report said. “... Humpback whales, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals, shorebirds, and eagles have been observed in the area, but no impacts to marine mammals or avian wildlife have been reported.”

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