Coast Guard responds to small oil spill near San Juan Island

A 15-meter fishing vessel with 9,854 liters of fuel on board has sunk off the west coast of San Juan Island, about 25.6 kilometers east of Victoria.

Members of CANUSPAC — a cross-border marine pollution joint response team — remain out in the waters near San Juan Island, Wash., in response to a diesel spill.

The U.S. Coast Guard says a fishing vessel about 25.6 kilometers east of Victoria sank with an estimated 9,854 litres of fuel on board.

A Good Samaritan rescued all five crew members on the Aleutian Isle as the vessel was sinking on Saturday near Sunset Point, the Coast Guard’s 13th District Pacific Northwest district in Seattle.

The cause of the sinking wasn’t immediately known. The Aleutian Isle reported it was taking on water at about 2 p.m. Saturday, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound said personnel spotted an oil sheen about 2.4 kilometres in length at about 5 p.m. Saturday, the district said.

Some of the sheen had entered nearby Canadian waters, Petty Officer Michael Clark said Sunday.

The Coast Guard also said it was working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which was tracking the spill’s trajectory, and others to ensure Southern Resident Killer Whales near the San Juan Islands don’t come in contact with the spill.

Authorities tell CHEK News that the vessel is between 100 to 150 feet underwater and that around half a dozen divers have been brought to the scene to determine the best course of action in removing the vessel.

“The problem is that we’re dealing with a diesel spill here and it’s next to impossible to clean up,” said Gerald Graham, a certified marine oil spill on-scene commander.

Graham, who has 30 years of experience with situations regarding oil spills says that the diesel would have to evaporate.

“If that diesel fuel continues to leak from the ship and you don’t plug the leak or siphon off the diesel fuel, then you’re going to have a problem until that’s done. That could be days, weeks, or months,” said Graham.

Prior to the spill, the Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA) received reports of multiple whale species near San Juan Island, including the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales swimming toward where the spill took place.

“Fortunately, it sounds like they didn’t get closer than a few miles of the spill area,” said Erin Gless, executive director for PWWA.

Gless confirmed to CHEK News that observers witnessed the whales leaving the area.

“They can hear many many more miles away and so even though physically they weren’t there, it’s possible that they heard all the other vessels that were there,” said Gless.

The executive director hopes this incident will serve as a wake-up call to strengthen coordinated responses to oil spills.

“We are working with government and industry partners to ensure an efficient and effective containment and recovery response,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Brian Dykens said in a statement. “The local public, the environment and protected marine species are our top priority.”

The Associated PressThe Associated Press
Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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