Crews begin removing oil, fuel from sunken boat near San Juan Island


Commercial divers and salvage teams on Monday will begin removing remaining potential pollutants on the Aleutian Isle, a 49-foot vessel that sunk Saturday west of San Juan Island.

Crews will get to the vessel, which is below 100 feet of water, using two decompression chambers, according to Petty Officer Michael Clark of the U.S. Coast Guard 13th District Pacific Northwest.

A safety zone of 1,000 yards around the sunken vessel west of Sunset Point will be in place Monday, according to the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard received a distress call that the vessel was taking on water at about 2 p.m. Saturday. All five crew members were rescued by good Samaritans before the Coast Guard could arrive, Clark said.

The crew estimated there was about 2,500 gallons of diesel out of 4,000-gallon capacity onboard and 100 gallons or so of lubricant and other oils used in boat engines, according to Ty Keltner, communications manager for the state Department of Ecology’s Spill Program

Booms with absorbent material have been deployed to protect shoreline and other environmentally sensitive areas, he said.

While diesel is a petroleum product, it differs vastly from crude oil, according to Keltner. In 1989, 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. More than 200 million gallons of crude shot from BP’s blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Diesel and gasoline are much lighter than crude oil and can evaporate in the kind of warm weather we are experiencing in the Puget Sound region, he said.

Keltner said once all potential pollutants are removed from the vessel, the owner and others will decide whether to try to recover the boat itself.

Reports on late Sunday from the Orca Network, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sound Watch and the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor indicated the southern resident killer whales population was not in the immediate area of the spill, Clark said.

Investigators are working to determine what happened onboard the boat in the minutes before it sank, Clark said.


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