Fishing vessel hit charted rock in Prince William Sound

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A fishing vessel that ran aground and sank in Prince William Sound hit a rock identified on nautical charts, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The unnamed ledge sits less than a mile off the east coast of Olsen Island near the entrance to Unakwik Inlet.

''This was a charted rock that is awash during some periods of low water,'' Lt. Virginia Kammer with the Coast Guard in Valdez said Wednesday.

The 180-foot Windy Bay was headed south out of Unakwik Inlet when it hit the ledge Saturday morning. The tide was near its low ebb. As the tide ran back in, the Windy Bay refloated, destabilized, slipped off the ledge and sank about 500 yards southeast of the ledge in 1,000 feet of water.

As the boat sank, it spilled 35,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the sound. The spill was the worst since the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude in the sound in 1989.

The Coast Guard said the Windy Bay's owners could be liable for a fine of up to $11,000 for releasing fuel into the water. Kammer said the fact that the ledge was marked on charts would not affect the Coast Guard's decision on whether to fine the vessel's owners, but it could affect the size of the fine.

''That's a pretty tricky area unless you got a chart in one hand and the wheel in the other,'' said Brad Phillips, owner of Phillips' 26 Glacier Tour out of Whittier. Between 1958 and 1981, he regularly traversed the waters near Olsen Island and Unakwik Inlet when he ran a tour service between Valdez and Whittier. Phillips said he usually avoided the east coast of Olsen Island, preferring the more eastern part of the entrance to Unakwik Inlet.

Windy Bay co-owner Ralph Hansen said the boat somehow got off course. He said there was a watch on duty at the time of grounding and that the ledge was below water. His insurance company will cover the cost of the cleanup, he said.

Meanwhile, the cleanup operation was demobilizing Wednesday because the remaining sheen was too thin and scattered for mechanical cleanup.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the company that runs the oil terminal in Valdez, provided a large skimmer and other equipment. At least 19 fishing boats, many trained by Alyeska in oil spill response, aided in the spill cleanup.

''The cleanup efforts have gone very well,'' said Cmdr. Meredith Austin, the acting federal on-scene coordinator.

Crews recovered more than one-third of the approximately 35,000 gallons of spilled diesel. The Coast Guard estimates that about 60 percent of the fuel evaporated.

Booms to keep any lingering fuel out of the nearby oyster farms and hatchery will remain, he said. Workers continued to walk beaches searching for fuel-covered wildlife.

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