Boat owners fined for spill

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Owners of a fishing boat that hit a charted rock, sank and spilled more than 35,000 gallons of fuel and oil into Prince William Sound have been fined $16,000 by the state.

The boat's owners paid the state $77,486 to cover state cleanup costs off Olsen Island about 50 miles southwest of Valdez.

The cleanup costs to all parties exceeded $7 million, according to state regulators.

The Windy Bay ran aground during calm, clear weather Aug. 4, 2001. Three hours later it sank in 1,400 feet of water with 35,000 gallons of diesel and 600 gallons of hydraulic and lube oil aboard.

For the next two weeks, diesel and oil percolated to the surface, spreading a sheen across 40 square miles of the sound. The spill was the largest in the sound since the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Coast Guard and a local oil shipping watchdog group deemed the cleanup a success: One-third of the spilled fuel was recovered, and spill skimmers worked as designed.

''Usually we cannot pick up more than 10 percent of (a spill). It seems they moved fairly quickly and did a good job of picking up,'' said John Devens, head of the watchdog group, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen's Advisory Council.

The grounding on the charted rock drew scorn from Prince William Sound residents who said the skipper should have avoided the hazard.

The Windy Bay was a crab fishing boat that had worked in the Bering Sea. Like many crabbers, the boat spent summers ferrying salmon from fishing boats to onshore processors.

On the morning of Aug. 4, the Windy Bay was heading south out of Unakwik Inlet. On the bridge, a crewman took a phone call from the vessel's Seattle co-owner, Tim Kennedy, according to Coast Guard investigators at the time. The boat was on autopilot, and skipper Doug Elden was below.

The crewman stepped out of the wheelhouse to get better reception. Shortly after, the boat slammed the charted ledge east of Olsen Island.

Over the next two weeks, the state, the Coast Guard, a private spill cleanup company, about 20 fisherman and personnel and equipment from Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. worked to clean up the spill.

Cleanup costs totaled more than $7 million, said Leslie Pearson, a spill response manager with DEC.

The Windy Bay's owners, Kennedy and Ralph Hansen of Sumner, Wash., had insurance that covered up to $1 million of cleanup costs. Other costs were paid out of a federal spill cleanup fund, said Valdez Coast Guard Cmdr. Mark Swanson.

Hansen would not comment on the fine Wednesday.

The $16,000 fine was derived by a formula. The standard fine is $2 per gallon. Because of the relatively large volume of fuel recovered and because diesel is relatively less toxic and disperses easily, the fine was reduced to 64 cents a gallon.

Devens said that was too low.

''It would seem if that is the only penalty they would have to pay, that's a pretty light penalty. It does not sound as if it would be a great deterrent,'' Devens said.

Pearson said that the state considered pushing charges of negligence against the skipper. But, she said, the state Department of Law said such charges would not likely stand.

The Coast Guard also investigated the sinking and spill. The cases are under review at Coast Guard headquarters in Virginia, said Chief Petty Officer Karl Christensen.

After the sinking, both the Coast Guard and area residents called for more regulation of large fishing vessels, which are largely exempt from the strict standards governing tankers and passenger vessels. Pearson of DEC said no regulations have been changed.

Over the past seven years, such unregulated vessels have had 1,332 spills in Alaska waters, almost 10 times the number of spills as larger, more heavily regulated ships, according to DEC statistics.

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