Sheen spreads from sunken fishing vessel in Jakolof Bay
• Cleanup crews on hand but weather, tides and a solid plan remain elusive at Jakolof now for 16 days
By Naomi Klouda
Two fishing vessels that sank in Jakolof Bay on Christmas day continue to spread an oily sheen in sensitive oyster farming waters while a plan for removing the vessels still isn’t formulated.
Jakolof is 10 miles south of Homer, a sparse community of about 70 homes near the town of Seldovia.
The masts from the F/V Leading Lady protrude above the surface in the tranquil waters of Jakolof Bay. Photo by Margo Reveil.
Coast Guard officials say the situation calls for safety in extremely hazardous conditions: It will take divers to install floatation equipment beneath the vessel to lift it while cranes raise the 53-foot FV Leading Lady off the bottom. It is taking more time to put together a plan on the part of the clean-up contractors due to safety concerns. Ultimately, the Coast Guard must approve the plan and equipment used. Weather also needs to cooperate.
“When you have divers and cranes, lifting vessels isn’t that big of a deal, but a vessel on top of a vessel is a whole different aspect,” said Petty Officer Jonathon Alexander said Wednesday.
Global Salvage and Diving is the cleanup contractor under the supervision of the Coast Guard, with funding paid for by the National Pollution Fund. They must propose the method for raising the sunken vessels and the Coast Guard needs to approve the plan or ask for modifications, Alexander said.
The F/V Leading Lady and the F/V Kupreanof sank sometime during the night of Christmas Eve or the following day, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in an incident report. The sunken vessels were discovered at 2:47 p.m. on Dec. 25 and were immediately reported to the Coast Guard.
The oily sheen from a sunken commercial fishing vessel has spread to a 100 by 100 foot sheen 16 days after the sinking.
The cause of the sinking is believed to be from the 48 inches of snow falling that day, another causality of the immense storm that swept through the region. The vessels were apparently pushed down and lodged a top of one another when crews inspected the situation on Dec. 27. The Leading Lady is a 53-foot commercial fishing vessel.
The vessel’s owner, Timothy Barclay, estimated for ADEC that about 50 gallons of diesel fuel and 35 gallons of hydraulic fluids, along with lube oils were aboard the boat. The F/V Kupreanof had no engine or fuel on board at the time of the sinking.
Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Sullivan said at the time that the first weather window for traveling to Jakolof was Dec. 28. At that point, a
unified command for clean-up had been formed with ADEC, placing the Coast Guard in charge of oversight. Agencies and stakeholders were all notified as well.
“We’ve contracted out services for a cleanup. There will be an additional assessment by divers on Saturday,” Sullivan said. “If conditions are good, the company will remove all the petroleum products to mitigate any future threat.”
Diesel and gas tend to dissipate quickly, evaporating into the air, Sullivan said. “Crude oil is a different story. For refined products, it’s difficult to recover.”
Residents in Jakolof Bay are watching as the sheens of fuel spread across the bay, and anxiously awaited the cleanup. As of Wednesday morning, residents were reporting a 100-by-100 foot slick clearly visible on the water.
In an appeal to officials, Margo Reveil first described diesel spreading all the way in the back of the bay on an outgoing tide, and documented it with photos the same week as the vessels sank.
“The sheen extended at least a nautical mile out past the red buoy off MacDonald spit. The last three images attached are back by the Northern Pride Farm,” she wrote. “They also fished out one, 5-gallon sealed bucket of oil floating in the bay, so debris is working its way out with the tides. I hope the seals hold as well on any other buckets. It is possible that diesel is being released in bursts and not a steady flow, but I would hope spill response teams are familiar with such potential fuel flow patterns from sunken vessels.”
Reveil’s husband and brother were the ones who called in to report the vessels had sunk. The Reveils operate an oyster farm in the bay and were immediately concerned about the impact of the spill.
“The oysters will be fully tested before they are allowed on the market, but our bigger concern is whether or not the longer-term exposure will cause a higher rate of mortality in the immature oysters and we just won’t know that till we start sorting and cleaning in spring,” Reveil said. “There have been no containment efforts on site. It sounds like there is a long list of reasons as to why it’s taken this long to get salvaging started, everything from weather and powerlines to how the boats sank and legalities around ownership and responsibility.”
Now that more time has passed – more than two weeks – the anxiety is growing. But Coast Guard officials say even if they were able to boom the area to collect the fuel, they wouldn’t be able to boom deep enough to collect it all.
“That’s the nature of an underwater spill in winter. The spreading sheen can’t be boomed,” Alexander said. “We’re not going to be able to put out a boom until we do lift operation.”