3 hurt in ammonia leak on fishing vessel at Dutch Harbor

Associated PressJuly 8, 2012 

The tug Double Eagle tows the fish-processing vessel Excellence out of Dutch Harbor in response to an ammonia leak. The vessel was towed to Wide Bay to isolate it while it was being vented of the gas.

PETTY OFFICER 1ST CLASS DAVID MOSLEY / U.S. COAST GUARD

Monday morning update:

The Coast Guard says a hazardous materials team is venting a fishing vessel that's leaking ammonia near Dutch Harbor.

Petty Officer Jonathan Klingenberg says the team also plans to conduct atmospheric tests on Tuesday to measure levels of ammonia still leaking from the Seattle-based Excellence, a catcher-processor.

The ammonia leak on the 353-foot vessel began Friday while it was docked at Dutch Harbor. The Excellence has since been towed six miles to Wide Bay.

The Coast Guard says the slow leak is believed to be coming from a tank holding up to 5,000 pounds of ammonia. The entire cooling system on the 353-foot Excellence contains 20,500 pounds.

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Sunday story:

Three people were treated for inhalation of ammonia vapors leaking from a Seattle-based fishing vessel as it was docked in Alaska's Dutch Harbor, responders said Sunday.

The leak is believed to be coming from a tank holding up to 5,000 pounds of ammonia, said Coast Guard Lt. Jim Fothergill. The entire cooling system on the 353-foot Excellence contains 20,500 pounds of ammonia.

"It evaporates quickly once it hits the air, but the leak is fairly slow," Fothergill said.

The three people treated for inhalation of the vapors were on board the vessel. Two of them were transported in stable condition for further treatment in Anchorage, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. One person has been released, and the other is in good condition but remains under observation, the department said.

The Coast Guard said the leak poses no danger to the public.

The leak began Friday and prompted the evacuation of all 129 crew members from the catcher-processor vessel in Dutch Harbor, approximately 800 miles southwest of Anchorage. The ammonia is used in a coolant system to flash-freeze the fish.

The vessel was towed Saturday night six miles to Wide Bay, the Coast Guard said.

While the Excellence was docked at Dutch Harbor, firefighters set up a 500-foot exclusion zone around the vessel and sprayed it down with water to reduce fumes wafting out of the vessel. Officials said responders were unable to safely investigate the leak at this point.

Representatives of various agencies set up an incident command.

A hazardous materials team went on board the vessel Saturday and Sunday, measuring high levels of ammonia, which indicated the ammonia was still leaking, responders said.

Fothergill said the ammonia vapors created a thick fog in the spill area.

He said it would be a couple of days before the cause and source of the leak can be investigated because the ammonia spill continues. In the meantime, the hazardous materials team is inspecting the Excellence twice a day, he said.

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