Escort tugs rescue drifting tanker

Kyle Hopkins

An Exxon tanker carrying more than 25 million gallons of Alaska crude oil lost power early Sunday morning while leaving Prince William Sound and had to be towed to safety, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Two tugs that had been escorting the 832-foot tanker Kodiak were nearby when it lost its generators and gained control of vessel, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

"Nothing was spilled," Lally said.

Trouble was reported at about 3 a.m. when the tanker was in Hinchinbrook Entrance - where the sound opens into the Gulf of Alaska and at the end of the escort route, said Donna Schantz, acting director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council.

Three more tugs arrived and the tanker was taken to safe harbor around 9 a.m. at Knowles Head in the Sound, Lally said. The vessel was carrying 613,000 barrels of oil, he said.

"The Kodiak also reported that they believed the generator was on fire, which after further investigation was determined to be false," said a report by Joel Kennedy, maritime operations project manager for the citizens advisory council.

That's why additional tugs, with firefighting capability, where called, Schantz said.

It's quite uncommon for a tanker to completely lose power in the Sound, she said. "To me I think what was so important about this incident was the prevention system worked. I mean they had 10-foot plus seas out at Hinchinbrook and both tugs took a line to the tanker and took control."

The Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping are investigating and will decide when the tanker will be allowed to leave, according to the advisory council. The Kodiak was headed from Valdez to San Francisco and belongs to Exxon-owned Sea River Maritime Inc., according to the Coast Guard.

It's the same tanker that struck a humpback whale last summer, Schantz said.

Tankers load crude oil at Valdez, the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

In October 2002, the tanker Kenai was leaving Prince William Sound in the Hinchinbrook Entrance when it suffered propulsion trouble, called for assistance and shut down its engines, according to the advisory council. That tanker was carrying nearly 798,000 barrels of oil and was towed to Knowles Head for safety, said news reports at the time.

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