Trawler aground in Pribilofs may be leaking fuel

James Halpin

Citing concerns over migrating birds, mating seals and a historic Russian settlement, the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday dispatched a team of experts from California to remove the wreckage of a fishing vessel that ran aground on St. George Island with some 15,000 gallons of diesel aboard.

The 112-foot Mar-Gun, based in Seattle, ran aground and began taking on water shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday as it battled whipping winds and swelling seas.

The Coast Guard identified the five crewmen as Tim Propst, Dan Hankins, Richard Post, Dan Stanfield and Paul Gore. All were wearing survival suits when they were plucked from the vessel in a basket from an MH-60 Jayhawk just before 8 a.m. and transported to the clinic on nearby St. Paul Island for evaluation, said Lt. Jon Bartel, aircraft commander. No injuries were reported.

Several vessels had been in the area hunkering down against steady winds at some 45 mph, gusting to 57 mph, and seas at 5 to 6 feet.

"The winds had been out of the opposite direction and the winds were actually helping hold them off shore," said Lt. Cmdr. Craig Neubecker, the Jayhawk's pilot. "There was a wind shift and it blew them onto the shore before they could have time to react."

The vessel grounded hard on a gravel bottom not far off the north end of St. George, said Max Malavansky Jr., environmental coordinator with the St. George Traditional Council. First the stern hit, then a swell pushed the bow aground and stuck the ship fast, he said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation reported the vessel contained about 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel. It was also carrying 668 gallons of lube oil, the Coast Guard reported.

Before being rescued, the crew transferred fuel to interior tanks to protect it from damage to the hull, Neubecker said. While in that process, the crew discovered sea water in the fuel tanks, but because the vessel was double-hulled none appeared to have leaked out, he said.

Earlier in the day, Dan Magone, of Magone Marine Service in Dutch Harbor, said he was preparing to head to the scene to begin a salvage operation.

"I understand the engine room is flooded, so that's complicating the whole deal," Magone said.

Later, however, Petty Officer Sara Francis said the Coast Guard wanted to get the vessel cleared as quickly as possible because of environmental concerns.

The vessel, which trawls in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, is lodged near a northern fur seal rookery -- although there are no seals there now, said Max Malavansky Sr., St. George city administrator.

The area, Staraya Beach, is also a seasonal home to migrating birds and an area of some archeological interest, Francis said. There is an early Russian settlement called Staraya Artil nearby, she said.

As a result, the Coast Guard dispatched six members of its Pacific Strike Team from Novato, Calif., to get the wreckage removed, she said. The team, which specializes in salvage and spill prevention operations, was to descend on the scene today accompanied by local personnel and equipment from Fort Richardson, Francis said.

"We want to get it out of there before the next big storm," she said. "A big storm probably won't rend the ship into pieces, but it could very well cause damage to the hull that would release the fuel inside."

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