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Fuel-leaking fishing boat pulled to surface one month after sinking near Victoria

Ongoing response looks to move the boat without releasing remaining fuel
The Aleutian Isle sees the surface for the first time on Sept. 17, over a month after it sank off of San Juan Island. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest)

A fishing boat has been pulled from the water one month after it sank and started leaking diesel into the strait between Greater Victoria and Washington State.

The Aleutian Isle fishing vessel went down on Aug. 13, near San Juan Island, in an important feeding spot for the endangered southern resident killer whales.

Crews spent weeks rolling out thousands of feet of absorbent booms to soak up the spilled fuels as researchers and environmental groups signalled concern for the area’s whales, marine life and other animals. During that time, diesel was slowly leaking from the 49-foot vessel’s vents as dive teams struggled to keep track of the boat as it sank deeper.

But on Sunday (Sept. 17), the boat was hauled out of the water. However, the boat remains on the surface with the support of a barge as the agencies overseeing the response reevaluate their next steps.

“Raising the vessel to the surface is certainly a success, but the complexity of this operation continues to challenge our team,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Kira Moody, of the incident’s unified command in a news release.

“Lifting the boat was a critical first step to minimize the ongoing pollution risk. The next step will likely involve relocating the crane barge to a more sheltered location where we can fully secure the boat with far less risk to our divers and crew and better protect the environment from any lingering pollution risk.”

The crews need to access the starboard side fuel tanks and internal spaces to continue dewatering the boat in order to lighten it. An on-site crane can handle the weight, but Moody said the current rigging configuration puts too much stress on the boat’s structure – meaning it could break and release the remaining fuel.

A fuel sheen was visible as the Aleutian Isle was lifted to the surface and responders “were able to boom sheening that was containable.”

Wildlife teams involved in the response were able to deter birds from the sheens, the unified command said.

Crews say they’ll continue monitoring the sheens, marine mammal location and impacts to shorelines.

Anyone who sees uncontained sheening is asked to call the National Response Center at 800-424-8802 and oiled wildlife can be reported to 800-22-BIRDS.

READ: Endangered orcas’ close call with fuel spill off Victoria a ‘wake-up call’: researcher

READ: Eco groups say spectre of future oil tanker spill looms after fuel leak near Victoria Follow us on Instagram. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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