Spill from sunken U.S. fish boat off Victoria raises concern for endangered orcas

Spill from sunken U.S. fish boat off Victoria raises concern for endangered orcas
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.

VICTORIA – The United States Coast Guard says commercial divers are assessing a sunken fishing boat that went down Saturday in U.S. waters and is leaking fuel not far from southern Vancouver Island.

The Aleutian Isle vessel is under about 30 metres of water off San Juan Island, roughly 25 kilometres east of Victoria.

A statement from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Northwest district says a Good Samaritan rescued the five crew members from the nearly 15-metre vessel, but it sank with nearly 10,000 litres of diesel and oil aboard.

The coast guard statement says the cause of the sinking is undetermined and divers are checking the hull and plugging vents so fuel can be pumped out of the vessel.

Boom measuring 640 metres has been placed around the spill site to prevent further contamination.

Petty Officer Michael Clark told The Associated Press that a sheen had entered Canadian waters and there was concern for critically endangered southern resident killer whales last seen near the southern tip of San Juan Island but moving away toward Port Angeles.

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) says in an email it is ready to assist as required while several other U.S. agencies are also helping contain any oil, track the trajectory of the spill and monitor for affected wildlife.

“There was some initial light sheen when the vessel first went down…but nothing observed since,” said the CCG in an emailed statement to CHEK News.

Flyovers from the CCG will continue as they assess the area and will respond accordingly.

Authorities told CHEK News on Sunday that around half a dozen divers were on 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 in 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.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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