Sunken Fishing Vessel Raised Off San Juan Island

Response vessels with vacuum trucks on board at work off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Image: U.S. Coast Guard.

A commercial fishing vessel that sank near Washington’s San Juan Island on Aug. 13, with estimated 2,600 gallons of diesel and oil on board, was successfully lifted to the surface this past week, in a lengthy process that ended on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 17.

The lifting of the Aleutian Isle began during that weekend afternoon and continued late into the night. The Coast Guard said after the vessel was brought to the surface that the crew began the complicated task of dewatering and removing fuel. The vessel was partially dewatered and approximately 775 gallons of oily-water liquids were removed, but crews were unable to safely access all spaces and completely dewater the vessel.

The Aleutian Isle is now floating with assistance from the barge DB-24.

The incident commander, Coast Guard Cmdr. Kira Moody, said that the complexity of the operation continues to challenge its team. Lifting the boat was a critical first step to minimize the ongoing pollution risk. Moody said the next step would likely involve relocating the crane barge to a more sheltered location, so that the boat could be secured with much less risk to divers and crew and protect the environment from lingering pollution risk.

The Coast Guard explained that continuing to lift the vessel in its current position would jeopardize the safety of crews needing access to the starboard fuel tanks and internal spaces to continue with dewatering and remove fuel to lighten the vessel.

While the crane could lift the vessel at its current weight, the Coast Guard said the existing configuration of the rigging put too much stress on the vessel’s structure and could cause the vessel to break and release any remaining fuel.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said pollution mitigation measures had been effective. Responders were able to boom sheening. Estimates to identify how much fuel is being released were still in progress.   Wildlife and pollution mitigation tams were successful in deterring birds from sheening areas during lift operations.

The Coast Guard said its teams were continuing to monitor sheening, while locating marine mammals and birds and impacts to the shoreline.