Little risk of diesel leaking from sunken fishing vessel, authorities say

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH — Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard see little risk that the 500 gallons of diesel that went down with the 40-foot fishing vessel Maverick on Sept. 28 will leak and cause significant environmental damage.

The Maverick sank in the waters of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, roughly 30 miles off the coast of LaPush, following a collision in dense fog with the 90-foot fishing vessel Viking Storm at about 4:30 a.m. that Friday.

Kelly Dickerson, 33, a crew member aboard the Maverick, is presumed dead after an unsuccessful search that extended into the following day.

Fuel tank intact?

No trace of fuel or other oily substances from the Maverick has been spotted in the area where the vessel sank, suggesting the ship's fuel tank survived the sinking intact, said George Galasso, deputy superintendent of NOAA's Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, on Friday.

The sanctuary extends 25 to 50 miles seaward from the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula and protects 3,310 square miles of marine habitat.

After the collision, the crew of the Viking Storm recovered three of the four fishermen from the vessel, including the Maverick's owner, 66-year-old Port Angeles resident Darby Dickerson.

The Coast Guard search for his son was called off the day after the sinking.

The Coast Guard is investigating the collision as a “serious marine incident,” working with Canadian authorities, said Petty Officer Second Class George Degener, a spokesman for Coast Guard District 13 in Seattle.

Monitoring waters

Degener said the Coast Guard also is working with U.S. federal agencies, such as NOAA, to monitor the waters off LaPush for any sign that fuel or oil from the Maverick leaked.

The Coast Guard said it will be up to the owner of the Maverick to salvage the vessel since it is posing no direct threat to ship traffic.

While the volume of diesel fuel that went down with the boat most likely will not have wide-reaching effects on the local environment if it is released, Galasso said it could have localized effects on marine animals.

“We can't say we're not worried about it because we don't know what's on the sea floor where it sank,” he said.

Heavy fog

Representatives of the Coast Guard have said heavy fog was a contributing factor in the collision.

The Coast Guard estimates visibility the morning the Maverick sank was about 40 feet due to dense fog.

Galasso said vessel crews are regularly warned of limited visibility due to fog off the coast of LaPush and the waters to the north, especially during the early mornings in late summer and early fall.

According to the United States Coast Pilot 7, a yearly collection of nautical charts and information NOAA publishes for coastal navigators across the country, fog exists an average of 236 days per year in this area, with summer being “the true fog season.”

Fog can reduce visibility in this area to below half a mile on three to 10 days per month during the summer, according to the Coast Pilot.

“It can be a very, very dangerous place,” Galasso said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 06. 2012 6:08PM
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