Observable sheen from oil spill shrinks

No effect seen on wildlife, Coast Guard says

SEATTLE — The sheen from a diesel spill when the Aleutian Isle, a commercial fishing vessel, sank off the coast of the San Juan Island on Saturday was observed to be diminished by Tuesday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Department of Ecology.

Responders on scene and drone/helicopter overflights show a reduction in the sheen, which originally was about 1.5 miles in length, Ecology said on its website at aleutianisleresponse.

In addition, air quality monitoring devices have found that air quality levels are not elevated from background levels and the smell of diesel is dissipating as well, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Clark, public affairs officer in Seattle, on Tuesday.

“These are all great signs,” he said.

Cause of the sinking of the 49-foot vessel on Saturday on the west side of San Juan Island near Sunset Point remained under investigation on Tuesday, Clark said.

A Good Samaritan rescued the five people aboard before the boat sank with an estimated 2,600 gallons of fuel on board. The Aleutian Isle reported it was taking on water about 2 p.m. Saturday, the Coast Guard said.

Southern Resident orcas have stayed away from the site, according to those tracking them, the Coast Guard Unified Command and the Canadian Regional Operations Center.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others have staged specialized marine mammal acoustic deterrence teams in Snug Harbor to use if needed.

The orcas were spotted near Port Angeles, heading west and away from San Juan Island as of Sunday evening and Monday morning, the Coast Guard has reported.

Another danger to marine life is the 1,800 feet of fishing net that detached from the sinking boat into the sea.

The Coast Guard’s Henry Blake, a 175-foot cutter with a crane and buoy deck, was aiding in the removal of the net on Tuesday, Clark said.

“That active hazard has been a safety concern for divers and for wildlife,” he said.

The boat originally sank about 100 feet but since has shifted and settled at about 210 feet under the water, Clark said.

That changes the equipment needed for divers to evaluate the wreck and determine salvage operations, Clark said.

The Coast Guard brought in a specialized Remotely Operated Vehicle to the site to aid divers in deciding how to handle the wreck.

Because of heavy currents and tidal swings, the safest times to dive are at slack tide, which is generally sometime between mid-afternoon and 9 p.m.

The Swinomish Tribe is part of the response to the spill, the Coast Guard has said.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 2,100 feet of boom was placed throughout the affected areas stretching from Smallpox Bay near Sunset Point to the south end of Henry Island.

No birds or other wildlife have been found to be contaminated with the diesel, Clark said.

Anyone who finds birds that have been exposed to the fuel is asked to call 1-800-222-4737 (1-800-22BIRDS).

For updates, check the Ecology website at aleutianisleresponse and the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest Facebook page.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at [email protected]

Reporter Peter Segall and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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