Rough waves battered the remains of a grounded freighter yesterday, causing more heavy oil to spill into the Bering Sea off the coast of Unalaska Island. Spill-response officials said a...
ANCHORAGE Rough waves battered the remains of a grounded freighter yesterday, causing more heavy oil to spill into the Bering Sea off the coast of Unalaska Island.
Spill-response officials said a flyover yesterday revealed more fuel leaking from the Selendang Ayu, forming a dark sea foam around the vessel. It wasn’t known how much of the fuel had spilled.
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“The seas are coming in, and the waves are apparently creating some more release from the vessel,” Capt. Ron Morris said.
The freighter was hauling soybeans and carrying 424,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel and 18,000 gallons of diesel when it lost power in the Aleutian chain last week, drifted powerless for two days and ran hard aground off the island, about 800 miles from Anchorage.
Six crew members were lost at sea when a rescue helicopter crashed, while the 18 other crew members were safely evacuated.
The Selendang Ayu broke in two, rupturing a tank that held 40,131 gallons of fuel and creating a spill that has washed into the sea and onto shore in wildlife habitats that support sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, tanner crabs and halibut.
Two other fuel tanks in the bow and stern sections of the ship contain about 280,000 gallons of fuel. A salvage team has been hired to remove the fuel from the tank in the stern by carting it out by helicopter in 2,000-gallon containers.
An attempt to remove the bow section was initially determined to be unsafe, but officials since have said the salvage team would try to find a way to do it.
The airlift removal is expected to get started by Jan. 1 and should take up to three weeks to complete, said Howard Hile, the incident commander hired by the vessel’s operator, IMC Group.
Fuel has spilled onto shore and into marshland, while soybeans were piled knee-deep in pockets along the coast, officials said. A shoreline cleanup that began Thursday near Skan Bay had to be halted yesterday because of inclement weather, Hile said.
Before the cleanup was stopped, 35 large bags of oily waste had been collected, officials said.
Eleven birds covered with oil have been found alive so far, and another six were dead, conservation officials said. One dead sea otter has been found.
Further disintegration of the ship is possible if the sea continues to pound it, Hile said.
“These storms clearly represent the greatest threat to the integrity of the vessel,” Hile said.
Snowstorms are forecast for the area in the next two days, with wind gusts up to 40 mph expected and seas up to 14 feet, according to Dave Vonderheide, a National Weather Service spokesman.
By tomorrow, the wind is expected to shift and come from the east, and the island’s peaks could shelter the area, Vonderheide said.