Approval key granted for the withdrawal of the US Challenger aground off the coast of Marin


The Commander-in-Chief of the United States Coast Guard has authorized the use of federal dollars from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to dismantle a decommissioned 90-foot fishing vessel stranded on the rocks off the coast of Marin since last March.

But the long-awaited consent means little until harsh winter ocean conditions subside long enough to make rescue operations safe, officials said.

The American Challenger is already in about as precarious an environment as it gets, rising abruptly in a rugged offshore area below sheer cliffs dangerous to divers and most standard rescue approaches.

“It’s a very active surfing area even in good weather,” said Kyle Watson, Salvage Master at Global Diving and Salvage Inc., who was tasked with removing the vessel.

Ben Wathen, spokesperson for the Coast Guard sector in San Francisco, noted that the recent winter storms were “a good thing for the region. Just a lot more rain.

“But when it comes to all operations, especially at the location of that ship, any time you drop people there, there’s always a risk. And if the weather isn’t perfect around these rocks, the Coast Guard and Unified Command just don’t want to put people there with recent weather, ”he said, referring to the team. “state and federal agencies involved in the withdrawal of the federal government. . “It seems to be slacking off a bit, but it’s been really tough getting people down on and around this ship. “

Agency representatives nevertheless assured that the ship, stranded in the waters of the Grand Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, would not be abandoned, even if it could still elapse a few months before the start of operations.

The recovery “is approved, so it’s only a matter of time now,” said Eric Laughlin, spokesperson for the California Fish and Game Department’s office of spill prevention and response, who manages communication for the unified command.

The retired 1975 vessel was being towed from Port Angeles, Washington, Mexico, to be scuttled when a steel shackle connecting the two ships broke. The American Challenger drifted for hours before running aground on March 5 on the rocks between Dillon Beach and the Estero Americano, about 75 to 100 yards offshore.

Neither boat was insured. Since last summer, public agencies had spent more than $ 2.3 million to inspect and secure the ship and protect the environment. Most of the fuel was drained prior to departure from Puget Sound.

From the beginning, it was clear that the ship’s removal would be difficult. An initial plan to pump it full of floating and expanding foam and float it on the rocks was rejected due to gravity and the puncture of the hull.

The current plan, developed last summer, includes installing a hoist and hoist system to bring the ship closer to shore, then cut it into pieces that can be transported by helicopter and barge.

But agency officials said the plan needed to be reviewed and reassessed given the ship’s movements during the winter. Watson also said he wanted to make sure he considered all options, given the difficult setting and condition of the wreck.

“It is more advanced now,” he said. “It is very inclined. It is like trying to stand on a steep roof.

Laughlin said the US Environmental Protection Agency would begin this week to assess the current state of the US Challenger through unmanned drone flights, as part of the assessment of its dismantling plan. this.

YesYou can reach editor Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected]. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.


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