Explosion and Fire on Barge Leaves One Person Missing

An explosion on a fixed barge located near the 99-foot fishing vessel Alaganik, on July 8, sparked a subsequent fire that spread to the dock before reaching the vessel. Both boat and barge sank in 60 to 80 feet of water at Whittier’s Delong Dock in Whittier, Alaska.

An air and water search for a man aboard that barge was suspended late in the day. The missing person is from Cordova, Alaska, where the barge was homeported. The cause of the explosion remains undetermined.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said that Robert Eckley, of Cordova, Alaska, whom DEC identified as the responsible party, had contracted with Alaska Chadux Corp. and Global Diving and Salvage for spill response and salvage operations. Diving operations are to begin on July 10 to assess the condition of the barge and determine the remaining pollution threat.

The city-owned pier suffered heavy damage in the fire, which has impacted commercial interests. DEC’s Division of Environmental Health Food Safety Program personnel are working with commercial fishing operators to assess whether seafood stored at the pier facilities had been contaminated.

DEC noted that 1,000 gallons of gasoline, 2,800 gallons of diesel, in addition to hydraulic and engine oil were on board at the time of the explosion. The barge had a maximum fuel capacity of 5,500 gallons.

DEC also reported that there are several anadromous streams in the area that support coho and pink salmon. There is also a terminal king salmon fishery at nearby Cove Creek. There were no initial reports of adverse impacts on fish or the abundant wildlife in the area.