The F/V Akutan is no longer in immediate danger of sinking. That’s according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which organized a slew of agencies to stabilize the listing vessel and remove pollutants over the weekend.
Petty Officer Meredith Manning said the unified command came together to stop the boat from spilling fuel, oil, and other chemicals into Unalaska’s Captain’s Bay.
“They were just worried — with the condition of the vessel and how much stuff was on it — it had the potential to sink,” she said. “Removing [the pollutants] improved the stability of the vessel and was able to correct some of the listing.”
About 8000 gallons of polluted liquid have been removed so far, but no one’s sure how much is left on the vessel.
The F/V Akutan can carry as much as 30,000 gallons of fuel, but it wasn’t full when it arrived in Dutch Harbor for repairs, following a disastrous salmon season in Bristol Bay.
Until all pollutants are removed, responders won’t be able to assess the F/V Akutan’s seaworthiness or make any long-term plans for the vessel. It’s unclear if owners will take responsibility for the vessel.
On top of that, the boat’s electrical system also failed this weekend, resulting in a toxic build-up of ammonia gas from the refrigeration unit.
Jeff Merrell of the Alaska Department of Conservation (DEC) says responders repaired the system, reduced gas to a safe level, and restarted refrigeration.
He says that beside the problems posed by toxic gas, keeping the freezers online is important to head off another issue: the F/V Akutan is still carrying 130,000 pounds of frozen Bristol Bay sockeye.
For now, the fish are fine.
“The report I have is that the fish have been and continue to remain frozen,” Merrell said. “From our perspective, there has been no impact to the salability of the fish, but who the fish will be sold to, and where, is not within my purview.”
Although Unalaska is the most productive fishing port in the nation, none of its three seafood plants process or sell salmon.
While there are no answers yet about the F/V Akutan’s ultimate fate, Unalaska’s Deputy Port Director Scott Brown finds the response work encouraging.
“There is no end date. We’re just taking each step of the process as it goes,” he said. “Certainly, the crews and the people involved in the project so far have got the ship stabilized. From when it got here to where we are now, we’re in a little more comfortable spot.”
DEC officials say they are concerned about the risk the F/V Akutan poses to seabirds and marine mammals, but there hasn’t been any harm to the ecosystem yet.
Responders are continuing to monitor the situation and remove pollutants.