Sunken supply vessel likely to remain in Cook Inlet

SAFETY CONCERNS: Lifting Monarch could be risky.

March 22, 2009 

The capsized vessel Monarch floats next to the Granite Point oil platform in Cook Inlet. While making a delivery Jan. 15, 2009, the Monarch was pinned to the platform by sea ice and sank. The seven crew members were able to evacuate to the platform and were then transferred to shore by helicopter.

PHOTO COURTESY ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

KENAI -- The 166-foot supply vessel Monarch is likely to remain in Cook Inlet after its sinking near Nikiski.

"The vessel has been declared a total loss," Jim Butler, spokesman for the company that operated the boat, Ocean Marine Services Inc. in Nikiski, told the Peninsula Clarion.

The Monarch sank Jan. 15 when sea ice pinned it against a platform operated by Chevron. Seven crew members were evacuated onto the platform and flown to shore by helicopter.

"Because of the size of the boat and its proximity to the platform, lifting is a dangerous proposition, and we don't want to do something that would increase the risk to the platform or pipelines," Butler said.

The 2 million-plus-pound vessel is currently set like an anchor in 86 feet of water, accumulating sand. It's positioned about 10 feet southwest of the platform.

Butler said if the Monarch were lifted, it could act as a sail in the inlet's rapidly moving tides, jeopardizing the platform, along with pipeline and communications infrastructure on the inlet's bottom.

Savage crews have been unable to reach the boat because of constantly shifting sea ice, and have instead continued to monitor it and the movement of tides with electronics, Butler said. Dive operations could start in late April, conditions permitting.

A side-scan sonar mounted on the legs of the platform is in place to confirm that the vessel remains securely in place.

Since viewing the boat with underwater video is impossible because of tidal and turbidity issues, the configuration of the boat and its condition remain unknown, he said.

Dive teams will have to evaluate the ship's condition. After that, Butler said as much potential pollution and debris that could be removed from the vessel will be.

The Monarch sank with 35,000-38,000 gallons of diesel on board.

"We want to dispose of the vessel in a manner that will reduce the risk to the environment, the other platforms in the area and navigation," Butler said.

This will likely include removing the fuel, and making sure the Monarch is in a safe and permanent location.

No sheening from released fuel or other debris has been reported, he said.

Some debris and cargo was lost at the time of the sinking, and Butler asked that if anyone discovers items they believe could have come from the Monarch, to contact the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Kenai or the Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc.

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