Unified Command continues pollution response off San Juan Island – Reuters


A barge and crane that will be used to lift the sunken ship Aleutian Isle for transport.

SEATTLE – The United Command continues its response after the sinking of the commercial fishing vessel Aleutian Isle off western San Juan Island, Washington. Vessel diving and salvage equipment has arrived on the scene.

A mixture of oxygen and helium, known as heliox, is required to dive to depths greater than 200 feet. Heliox has arrived on San Juan Island and is being prepared for use.

The contractor, Global Diving, arrived on scene, anchoring a barge and crane which will be used to lift the sunken vessel Aleutian Isle for transport.

Once the dive team begins recovery operations, it is expected to take ten days. Weather conditions and tidal currents will limit their window to safely dive the wreck each day. Diving operations include removing any hazardous debris and securing a safe dive site; check the structural integrity of the vessel and secure fuel tank vents to prevent further pollutants from entering the water; and the process to complete a recovery.

Diving operations can only be conducted safely under optimal conditions. These include weather conditions above the surface, water currents, tidal swings and other factors. The safety of responders and support personnel remains Unified Command’s top priority.

To ensure a safe working environment, a temporary safety zone extends 1,000 meters around the dive site. Coast Guard crews are on hand to enforce the safety zone and can be contacted directly on marine band VHF radio channel 16.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) around the incident site. The public cannot fly drones/UAS in this TFR area, as they can distract crews during this complex operation and hamper recovery efforts.

The TFR extends up to and including 800 feet above the areas around Henry Island and Garrison Bay south to the areas around Eagle Point. The TFR will remain in effect until 1 a.m. on Thursday, September 1. All the details concerning the TFR can be found on the FAA website here.

Unified Command has continuously employed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Shoreline Clearance and Assessment Techniques (SCAT) teams to monitor for gloss and other signs of pollutants that may affect the ecology on and around the incident site.

An inconsistent glow is sometimes observable, usually during the morning hours near Sunset point. The observed sheen is an unrecoverable, aged diesel; and Unified Command continues to assign responders to observe each individual report.

The locations of protected marine mammals, particularly Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs), have been continuously monitored as part of a joint collaborative effort by Unified Command and supporting organizations. No SRKWs have been located near or approaching the area, but personnel continue to train in the use of acoustic deterrent tools, known as oikomi pipes, and are being organized to respond if necessary.

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