A tug and barge that went aground Wednesday in the Gulf of Alaska, 60 miles southeast of Cordova, is leaking an unknown amount of fuel, the U.S. Coast Guard released Thursday.
The 77-foot-long Hook Point-Alaganik found trouble in rough waves and an especially high tide that led it to crash into chunks of ice called bergy bits that had floated into the gulf from Seal River. This impact broke the mechanical system holding the barge and tug together, before both were washed ashore.
At the time it went ashore, the Hook Point-Alaganik, as the vessel is known, was reportedly filled with more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, as well as 90 gallons of hydraulic oil and 30 gallons of gasoline. The Coast Guard has no estimate yet of how much spilled.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has noted on its web page that ice is common in the area. "Icebergs up to 60 feet long float out the Seal River into the Gulf of Alaska (and) if the barrier beach is breached, icebergs up to 1,500 feet long may enter the Gulf, posing a hazard to navigation" as they break off from the retreating Bering Glacier, wrote DNR.
'Something is leaking'
Two workers on board escaped unharmed. The Hook Point-Alaganik was reportedly engaged in clean-up work along the Gulf of Alaska coast, picking up debris from the Japanese tsunami.
Coast Guard Lt. Allie Ferko said Thursday that the vessel was beached on shore and is "now completely high and dry." Thursday's tide was lower than the day before.
She said that the tug and barge seemed to be close to shore when they struck ice; in fact, crew was coordinating with others already on land. Ferko confirmed "damage to the barge, adding that "we know something is leaking" even though authorities could not see fuel leaking from the ship.
Lt. Keyth Pankau, response department head for the Marine Safety Unit of the Coast Guard in Valdez, said in the press release that authorities "will continue to monitor response efforts to ensure fuel removal and salvage of the integrated tug and barge are conducted safely and efficiently."
Pankau said emergency precautions have been put in place to contain any spilled fuel.
The release also said that that the Coast Guard was working with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor and counter any environmental impact.
Contact Eli Martin at eli(at)alaskadispatch.com. Alaska Dispatch reporter Laurel Andrews contributed to this report.