The U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian agencies were monitoring an unmanned barge Thursday evening that floated in the Beaufort Sea with about 950 gallons of diesel fuel on board, according to the Coast Guard.
During a severe storm Tuesday, the barge broke from tow cables that had attached it to a Canadian tugboat. The vessels were headed to Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Northwest Territories but separated before reaching the community, said Cmdr. Shawn Decker, chief of response for the Coast Guard's Anchorage sector.
"Due to the severity of the storm and the concern for the safety of the people on the tugboat, the tugboat continued on and the barge continued drifting west," Decker said.
By Wednesday, the 134-foot barge had crossed into U.S. waters. On Thursday, Decker estimated that it was drifting between 8 and 10 miles offshore, about 30 or 40 miles east of Prudhoe Bay.
Northern Transportation Corp. Ltd., a Canadian marine operator and barging company, owns the barge and was working on a response plan Thursday with the U.S. and Canadian coast guards, Decker said, though dropping temperatures may complicate a retrieval.
"They are exploring multiple response plans or options to try and retrieve the barge," he said. "The challenge is that this time of year there are very, very limited vessel options in that region right now due to the quickly developing ice and the overall limited number of vessels operating."
The barge drifted Thursday in 12-foot seas and had yet to come into contact with land. It carried 950 gallons of diesel fuel in internal tanks that "did not show evidence of damage," according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Winds were 40 mph.
Decker said that the U.S. Coast Guard plans to fly a C-130 aircraft from Kodiak to the North Slope on Friday to locate the barge and determine its exact location, direction and speed.
"Our immediate goal and our primary goal is to minimize and prevent any environmental impact as a result of this barge," Decker said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing