Sunken vessel lifted from depths of Haro Strait

Aleutian Isle fishing boat sank on Aug. 13

The Aleutian Isle lays on its side suspended by crane after being lifted to the surface on Saturday. (Canada Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans)

The Aleutian Isle lays on its side suspended by crane after being lifted to the surface on Saturday. (Canada Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans)

SAN JUAN ISLAND — The Aleutian Isle fishing boat was raised to the surface of the Haro Strait ready to be placed on a barge for transport this weekend after it had been submerged for more than a month.

The state Department of Ecology said in its most recent report at 7 p.m. Saturday on its website, ecology.wa.gov, that crews had raised the 58-foot boat to the surface and had removed 250 gallons of waste oil while attempting to remove any diesel fuel remaining onboard.

The Coast Guard said Sunday morning that the boat had not yet been placed on the barge as response teams assessed the best path forward.

After the boat sank on Aug. 13, with all five members rescued unharmed, the vessel eventually settled to about 240 feet deep off the west coast of San Juan Island.

The cause of the boat sinking remained under investigation, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Recovery has taken longer than expected. A mixture of oxygen and helium, known as heliox, was needed to dive at depths greater than 200 feet, the Coast Guard said.

Contractor Global Diving used a barge and crane to raise the sunken vessel for transport, according to the Coast Guard.

Crews worked through Saturday evening to prepare the boat for the lined barge.

“As anticipated, fuel was dislodged during the lift operation and caused a visible sheen on the water’s surface,” Ecology reported. “Response crews are containing the sheen and attempting to recover whatever is possible.

“No whales were in the vicinity during the lift, and there were no reported impacts to wildlife from the sheening.”

The Coast Guard said the barge the will hold the salvaged boat is lined with protective barriers to prevent additional pollution, and the barge was to be fully boomed as an additional precaution while the boat was taken to a mainland facility.

The Coast Guard said 7,300 feet of boom had been deployed in geographically sensitive areas with much more on standby.

“Aerial surveys are done multiple times daily, and equipment like skimmers are available to deploy. Wildlife monitoring crews such as Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) teams continue to patrol ecologically sensitive areas and whale deterrence teams are ready to deploy if any species of whale come near the response.

“Additional teams will be on the water to look for wildlife and deter birds away from any sheening as well as community air monitoring.”

The boat sank with up to 2,600 gallons of fuel on board. The J, K and most of L pod of Southern Residents came close to the sheen but turned back before they encountered it, according to the Orca Network of Freeland.

A 1,000-yard safety zone continues to be in place until next Monday, Sept. 26.

“Boaters who violate the safety zone and cause severe wakes endanger response personnel,” the Coast Guard said.

“This complicated phase of recovery, working in extreme depths, requires optimal environmental conditions and tidal currents conducive for raising the vessel.”

The Unified Command for the operation was composed of the Coast Guard, Ecology, San Juan Office of Emergency Management and the Swinomish Tribe.

Anyone who sees uncontained sheening is asked to call the National Response Center at 800-424-8802.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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