Rescue tug called to aid container ship off coast


OLYMPIA – The windy and wet storm system battering much of the Pacific Northwest also inflicted damage to at least one large ship sailing off the Washington coast today. In response, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) dispatched the seasonal Gladiator rescue tug to escort the disabled ship safely back to port for repairs.

The Kauai, a 720-foot container ship operated by Matson Lines, was sailing near Cape Flattery when it was smashed by a large ocean swell. The waves broke out the wheelhouse windows, damaged electronic systems and knocked out the ship’s primary steering system.

The Crowley Maritime-operated Gladiator met the container ship at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and escorted her into Port Angeles. There, the Gladiator’s crew handed the ship off to another tug so the Gladiator could return to keep watch at Neah Bay. The Kauai is currently heading to Seattle for repairs.

“We dodged a bullet with today’s assist,” said Dale Jensen, manager in charge of Ecology’s Spills program. “With the incredibly stormy weather here on land, one can only imagine how tough the conditions are at sea.”

He said, “Having the rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay during the winter means we can assist ships in distress and prevent catastrophic damage to our valuable marine resources.”

The state has contracted to station a rescue tug at Neah Bay since spring of 1999. The tug has stood by or assisted 34 ships that were disabled or had reduced maneuvering or propulsion capability while transporting oil and other cargo along the coast and through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The actions helped ensure the ships didn’t drift onto rocks and spill oil.

The stormy weather also caused several inland fuel spills over the weekend:

•    A semi-tractor truck accident early Monday morning, Dec. 3, in the Nisqually Valley in Thurston County spilled about 150 gallons of diesel fuel on the median of U.S. Interstate 5. The accident occurred near the Nisqually Reach National Wildlife Refuge, and Ecology responders are working with contractors to clean up the fuel. Earlier in the day, an unrecoverable sheen was observed in nearby McAllister Creek, an important salmon-bearing stream.

•    On Sunday morning, Dec. 2, the 87-foot tugboat Deschutes suffered damage to its propellers and hull during an incident on the Snake River near the Ice Harbor Dam. Ecology, EPA and U.S. Coast Guard aggressively responded to the incident.

The Deschutes was pushing three barges when strong winds pushed the tug onto the rocks near the dam, resulting in a puncture to the tug’s hull.  The tug was carrying 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel in the tank that was damaged. Fortunately, the rock also acted like stopper, keeping nearly all the fuel from leaking into the river – except for an unrecoverable sheen.

The tug was moved to the Port of Burbank near Pasco, and oil containment boom was placed around the vessel to contain any additional fuel that might be released. The incident is under investigation.

•    On Sunday, Dec. 2, between five and 20 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled at Island Tug & Barge’s facility at Harbor Island in Seattle. The spill occurred during a fuel transfer over water. Oil containment boom is not automatically required at the facility when transfers occur at rates less than 500 gallons a minute. Ecology is still investigating the incident.

•    On Saturday, Dec. 1, Ecology received two calls from ferries in the Anacortes area describing unrecoverable oil sheens on the water.  The sheen was eventually traced to Lorvic Marina in Anacortes. A pump-valve malfunction on a 175-foot fishing vessel under repair caused the vessel to nearly fill with water on Nov. 30. To keep the vessel from sinking, an external pump was used to remove the water. About 20 to 50 gallons of a bilge oil-diesel fuel mixture was discharged into the water. The incident was not reported. An investigation took place the next day.

•    An early Saturday morning truck fire in Richland prompted a full-blown response by local, state and federal responders and investigators. A rental truck carrying several barrels of gasoline fuel caught fire behind a local gas station. The local fire department contained the fire but an unknown quantity of fuel did mix with the water used to douse the flames. Ecology spill responders recovered 7,000 gallons of fuel contaminated water from a storm drain. No one was hurt in the incident.

•    A number of other small accidents have occurred throughout the state involving boats, motor vehicles and other equipment. These accidents often release some oil into the environment. Petroleum products are toxic, and the material quickly mixes with the runoff caused by the stormy weather and enters state waters – along with other hazardous materials. All of these materials contribute to the toxic load entering our waters, particularly Puget Sound. Ecology urges all motorists and boat owners to be careful during winter storms. Fewer accidents also help protect the environment and keeps oil out of our waters.


Media Contacts: Kim Schmanke, 360-407-6239
Curt Hart, 360-407-6990 or 360-480-7908

For more information:

Ecology’s Web site:

~ by fredfelleman on December 3, 2007.

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