Crewmen rescued after seiner hits ice and sinks

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The skipper of a Valdez purse seiner and two crew members were rescued from the frigid waters of Prince William Sound Thursday when the vessel struck a small iceberg and sank.

Larry Gray, owner of the 68-foot Vanguard, and his two crew members were unhurt in the ordeal that began at 12:40 p.m., when the wood-hull vessel hit the car-size piece of ice, the Coast Guard said. The crew put out a distress call, saying the Vanguard was taking on water half a mile off shore from Glacier Island, about 30 miles southwest of Valdez.

''Within two minutes, the boat sank completely,'' Lt. Keith Ropella said. ''But the crew was able to put on exposure suits in time.''

Several fishing vessels were in the area and headed toward the trio. But John Allen, the newly elected president of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, was the first to arrive in a skiff borrowed from his employer, the Growler Island Resort, a nearby stopping ground for local tour boat operators, Ropella said.

After pulling the three from the water, Allen checked their conditions. They said they felt fine, according to Ropella.

Allen then turned them over to the fishing vessel Tor, whose crew also checked their conditions. Gray and his crew members were still on board the vessel Thursday evening and could not be reached.

From the Tor, Gray arranged to hire a salvage company to clean up leaking fuel emerging from the Vanguard.

Ropella said the seiner was carrying 2,000 gallons of diesel, 500 gallons of gasoline and 60 gallons of oil. Thursday evening, a sheen of what was probably diesel stretched out about three miles by 50 feet, Ropella said.

Some of the boats in the area unsuccessfully tried to clean up the spreading slick with sorbent booms.

Ropella said the Coast Guard will monitor the clean up expected to begin Friday.

''It's a slow but constant leak from the sunken vessel,'' Ropella said. ''The ice must have punched a pretty big hole in it.''

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