Sunken boat leaks 35,000 gallons of oil in Prince William Sound |

Sunken boat leaks 35,000 gallons of oil in Prince William Sound

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A sunken fishing vessel has leaked 35,000 gallons of diesel in Prince William Sound, the largest oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster more than 12 years ago, and officials say marine wildlife will be affected.

Workers have spotted endangered Steller sea lions and humpback whales swimming through the diesel, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Diesel patches have spread to cover 10 square miles of the northern Sound, an area rich with wildlife and near the height of the summer pink salmon run. Diesel has reached the beach in at least three spots.

”We’ve got a large spill in the Sound. We’ve got a lot of sensitive resources in the area. With one this big, you can expect wildlife impacts,” Leslie Pearson, the state’s on-scene coordinator, told the newspaper.

So far, workers have not recovered any dead or fuel-soaked wildlife, she said. And while the spill is large, it is far from the 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989. Researchers say long-term effects of that spill continue to appear.

The new spill occurred Saturday. The 180-foot tender Windy Bay was headed south when it hit a rocky ledge about 400 yards off the eastern shore of Olsen Island and sank in about 1,000 feet of water. Fuel began percolating to the surface immediately, Pearson said. She believes all the 35,000 gallons of diesel leaked from the boat.

Pearson said 20 fishing vessels from Valdez, Cordova and Tatitlek have played a crucial role by pulling boom and towing recovery devices used in the spill response.

The Coast Guard hired the Ship Escort Response Vessel System, an arm of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. that serves the Valdez oil terminal and tankers, to assist in the cleanup about 40 water miles southwest of Valdez. The system keeps 350 fishing vessels on retainer for use in spills, including a core group of 50 available to leave at a moment’s notice. The boats train with state and federal agencies.

”We drill. We exercise with them. They’re obviously demonstrating their capability,” said Alyeska spokeswoman Sandy McClintock in Valdez. ”They’re an integral part of our response.”

Diesel patches from the Windy Bay have been detected in a 40-square mile area of the northern sound.

The spill crews set up boom around Fairmount Point and Fairmount Bay, trying to protect an oyster farm, Pearson said. Other boats have been working along tide rips, where diesel gathers in a line of scum.

The fishing vessels work in pairs, each towing 500-foot booms in a U-shape configuration. In the apex of the U is a device that collects the oil. People in helicopters coordinate vessel movements.

”It’s almost like a ballet on the water,” Pearson said.

By Monday night, 10,000 gallons of oil had been recovered. Another 1,000 gallons were lifted off the ocean surface overnight.

Two lucky circumstances helped. State Department of Environmental Conservation workers were only seven miles away responding to another spill from a fishing boat that hit an iceberg. Also, seas have been nearly flat, Pearson said.

”For the most part it’s been ideal for a water recovery operation,” Pearson said. She said that with the calm, the equipment is not being tested.

”A good storm would have been interesting,” she said.

On the Web:

Alaska emergency response program:

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