By Naomi Klouda
Divers were able to raise the sunken fishing vessels, the F/V’s Kupreanof on Saturday and the Leading Lady Monday from Jakolof Bay, some four weeks after the boats went down in 48 inches of heavy snowfall.
But enough fuel spilled in the sensitive oyster farm waters that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources announced today, Wednesday, that all commercial sales of the oysters from this area are shut down. “These oyster farms have been notified of the spill, and the ADEC Division of Environmental Health has issued a Stop Sale Order for the oysters in that area. The area is used by migratory birds and sea otters,” the release said. “Oysters and mussels from the farms in Jakolof Bay will be quality tested by ADEC’s Environmental Health division before the spring harvest.”
Both commercial fishing vessels, each more than 50-feet long, locked together while sinking on Christmas Day. Storms, inclemently low temperatures and delays in equipment meant the U.S. Coast Guard and clean up contractor Global Diving and Salvage, couldn’t raise them until early this week.
“The weather cooperated, but it wouldn’t let us in Thursday or Friday,” said Coast Guard PO2 David Simonds. It was nearly dark by the time the Kupreanof refloated in the water on Saturday and later on Monday afternoon when the Leading Lady surfaced through a complex process of crane lifts and air-injected floatation devices.
The vessels’ owner, Timothy Barclay, said he wanted to repair and maintain the vessels, purchased in recent years, but lacked funding while in the midst of an expensive lawsuit. He is in federal court in the case of Barclay vs (Marcus) Fuller asserting ownership rights on the 38-foot FV Sarah Nicole.
Barclay was in Homer during the raising of his boats Monday. He said he has lived here for two years but has a Valdez address because that is where his federal case originated.
The U.S. Coast Guard said weather hampered their efforts repeatedly last week as they tried to get to the site in Jakolof Bay where the two wooden-hulled fishing boats went down.
Of concern was the amount of fuel leaking into the sensitive oyster farm waters of the bay.
“We immediately removed the liquid from the Kupreanof, and found no fuel on board. We pumped out all the water and sent it to the Homer Harbor where it will be until its picked up to be towed away by the boat yard,” Simonds said.
What residents in the area described as a sizable sheen on sensitive oyster farm waters had diminished by the time the Coast Guard supervised the spreading of a 500-foot boom. Some 12 containers of fuel in various sizes were cleaned from the Leading Lady.
The dive team consisted of five people, one to dive below the surface and fix floatation devises beneath the vessel and other crew for support and contact. Once those were in place, air was pumped into the devises and a heavy-lift crane freighted in on a barge lifted the vessels.
In the original sinking, there were about 50 gallons of diesel fuel and 35 gallons of hydraulics and lubricants aboard the Leading Lady, Barclay had immediately reported to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which made out the spill incident report.
Once removed from the bay, each of the vessels is under the custody of the Department of Natural Resources. They are considered confiscated in a tow for trespassing on state lands. Simonds described this as being tidal lands beneath the surface of the bay as the location of the ‘trespass.’
“The state is seizing them as if they are trespassing on state lands,” Simonds said. “They are telling them it’s the same as if you have a car parked in a (unauthorized) parking lot, your car would be towed. The state will be giving them 20 days to pay for the tow. It’s expensive. If he doesn’t pay it within a time period, then the state puts it up for auction.”
Barclay said he got behind the eight ball a year ago when the Sarah Nicole was “stolen” from him and he was deprived of his livelihood. He had planned on using the Leading Lady to fish for cod. He got the Kupreanof in the spring of 2010 and hoped to fix it up.
“I couldn’t afford insurance or maintenance on either boat – this lawsuit has cost me a $1 million so far, all because my boat got stolen,” Barclay said. “My money has been going to lawyers.”
Both the Kupreonof and the Leading Lady are moored below the Harbor Master’s office in the Homer Harbor. Each shows signs of significant damage from sinking.
The Coast Guard will issue an official news release at the end of their investigation. In the meantime, this is the release from the DNR, issued today, Wednesday:
AMOUNT of SPILL: The owner of the vessel estimates that approximately 50 gallons of diesel fuel and 35 gallons of hydraulic fluids and lube oils were on board the F/V Leading Lady at the time of sinking. All diesel fuel was released while the vessel was submerged. According to the owner, the F/V Kupreanof had no fuel on board at the time of sinking.
CAUSE OF SPILL: The exact cause of the sinking is unknown at this time; however, the area received 48 inches of snow in the prior 48 hours, which may have contributed to the sinking of the vessels.
SOURCE CONTROL: The vessels were refloated and all recoverable pollutants removed.
RESPONSE ACTION: The Coast Guard re-floated the Kupreanof on Sunday, January 20, and the Leading Lady on Tuesday, January 22. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources took possession of the vessels after they were re-floated.
RESOURCES AFFECTED: Jakolof Bay is within the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area and contains several oyster farms. These oyster farms have been notified of the spill, and the ADEC Division of Environmental Health has issued a Stop Sale Order for the oysters in that area. The area is used by migratory birds and sea otters. No species listed in the Endangered Species Act have been identified as using this area at this time of year. Jakolof Bay is a high use recreational area.
FUTURE PLANS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: The vessels are currently moored in Homer Harbor. Their condition is being monitored by an ADNR contractor. When tides allow, the vessels will be transported to a boat yard in Homer and be auctioned or disposed of. Oysters and mussels from the farms in Jakolof Bay will be quality tested by ADEC’s Environmental Health division before the spring harvest.
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