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730 tons of seafood salvaged from grounded tug and barge in Aleutians

Cordova Times

Crews have successfully salvaged the tug Polar Wind and its barge, the Unimak Trader, from Ukolnoi Island, 40 miles east of Cold Bay, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

An investigation into what caused the grounding is ongoing by the Coast Guard and Northland Services

Capt. Paul Mehler III, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, credited the teamwork among federal, state, local and tribal partners working with industry to resolve what he called "a complex and logistically challenging job without adversely impacting the maritime environment."

Responders were able to remove more than 13,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lube oils and refloated the Polar Wind on Nov. 30. The Polar Wind was then towed to Sand Point.

The barge, Unimak Trader, was refloated. Both vessels will undergo dive assessments and temporary repairs before being towed to another location.

Prior to the barge being towed, 97 refrigerated shipping containers, including 33 containers containing more than 1.5 million pounds of frozen seafood, were transferred from the Unimak Trader to another barge and then safely delivered to Dutch Harbor, Coast Guard officials said.

Kerry Walsh, marine casualty project manager and salvage master for Global Diving and Salvage, said the extreme weather and sea conditions his crews faced, coupled with the remote location, introduced challenges that were largely overcome with the help of local communities and fishermen.

Steve Russell, state coordinator for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, called it one of the more successful recovery operations of recent years.

The tug and barge grounded on the south side of Ukolnoi Island on Nov. 13. The grounding was reported to the Coast Guard that evening and officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation were notified the next day.

The five-person crew of the Polar Wind was rescued on the day of the grounding after the vessel began taking on water. The crew was reportedly attempting to recover the barge until the towline parted.

At the time it grounded, the Polar Wind was estimated to have more than 20,500 gallons of diesel on board, and the barge reportedly had 1,800 gallons of diesel.

Response crews found that an estimated 6,000 gallons of diesel had leaked out of two port side fuel tanks on the tug that were damaged during the initial grounding, but reported that the diesel had been dissipated by adverse weather and had not harmed local wildlife.