Sunken Fishing Vessel No Longer Environmental Threat: USCG

Crews work aboard the Aleutian Isle on Sept. 20, 2022. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A commercial fishing vessel that sank in mid-August near Sunset Point off Washington’s San Juan Island, was recovered, defueled and on a salvage barge as of Sept. 21, and no longer posed a significant threat to the environment, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Plans were to transit the Aleutian Isle to a mainland facility for further investigation into the cause of the sinking.

The federal on-scene coordinator representative, U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Kira Moody, said that the unique environment of the San Juan Islands and location of the vessel made for a complicated and technical response.

The 58-foot fishing vessel sank Aug. 13 near Sunset Point off San Juan Island with an estimated 2,500 gallons of diesel on board and 100 gallons of motor oil and other oils. It was recovered from over 250 feet of water in Haro Strait on Sept. 17 after weeks of complex dive operations.

It was later towed to Mitchell Bay to provide divers and response crews a safer, shallower environment to prepare it for the final lift out of the water.

Throughout the response, killer whale experts were on standby to deter killer whales from areas of active sheening, with extra attention on the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Deterrents were successful during two separate events with a pair of transient killer whales.

Brendan Cowan, director of the San Juan Office of Emergency Management, was the local on-scene coordinator.

“This area is special and unique. It has an incredible diversity of marine life,” she commented. “The whale deterrence team has spent countless hours monitoring and protecting the Southern Residents and other species from any sheening.”

Birds landing in surface sheening was also a concern, especially the endangered marbled murrelet, Coast Guard officials said. Deterrence teams used proactive deterrence with air cannons and vessels to prevent birds from moving through areas of sheen.

Dave Byers, the state’s on-scene coordinator from the Washington Department of Ecology, said monitoring for any residual fuel that could impact the shoreline or wildlife was continuing.