Three-mile sheen spotted in vicinity where boat sank off Pacific coast

Article published Feb 6, 2011

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH — A boat that sank in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary on Thursday is apparently leaking diesel fuel and it is too deep to be pulled from the water, the Coast Guard said Saturday.

“Nothing can be done” to stop the pollution, which likely is from the 80-foot fishing vessel Vicious Fisher, which sank 13 miles west of LaPush at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, said Beth Roscoe, Coast Guard spokeswoman, on Saturday after two flyovers Friday.

A three-mile sheen — beginning one to two miles from the place the boat went down and extending out into the ocean — was seen during the Coast Guard’s latest flyover Saturday afternoon.

“The sheen is in the vicinity of where the Vicious Fisher went down,” Roscoe said. “Because it wasn’t present before the vessel sank, we can’t be 100 percent sure that the sheen is in fact from the vessel,” she added.

The diesel floating on the surface of the water “puts a lot of sea birds at risk,” said Liam Antrim, resource protection specialist with the sanctuary, on Saturday.

“There is a potential for dozens to hundreds of sea birds to be exposed to a slick that size.”

The Vicious Fisher, based in Bellingham, carried 3,800 gallons of diesel fuel and sank deep — somewhere between 350 feet and 400 feet under the surface, Roscoe said.

“It’s too deep for any diver to go down to it or to bring it up to the surface,” she said.

The sanctuary’s acting superintendent, George Galasso, said his office would investigate on its own the possibilities of salvage.

“I have not had the opportunity to talk with anyone to know if it is possible to salvage the boat,” he said Saturday.

More pollution is expected to surface.

“As the boat sinks, there’s increased pressure,” Roscoe said.

“We’re expecting the tank that’s holding the fuel to break.”

The assessment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is that the sheen is likely to dissipate in a couple of days, Roscoe said.

If more fuel surfaces, it will take from 12 to 24 days to dissipate, she added.

The sheen is moving in a northwesterly direction and is not expected to make landfall, Roscoe said.

“We don’t expect any significant impact on the environment,” she said, qualifying that by saying that all spills have an effect and it isn’t known what will happen.

The Coast Guard plans a daily flyover to check on the sheen, Roscoe said.

Fishing is permitted in the sanctuary, Galasso said, but it is illegal to discharge or deposit any material in the sanctuary.

“Both the discharge of the [diesel fuel] and abandoning the vessel on the floor are sanctuary violations,” he said.

The distance of the slick from the coast, and the fact the boat seems to be drifting away from shore, is good news, Antrim said.

“That far out, we’re talking about a lesser number” of sea birds and mammals potentially being hurt by the spill, he said.

The captain of the boat had managed to cap the vents, trapping the fuel onboard, before he and four other crew members were safely rescued from the sinking vessel, the Coast Guard said Friday, and no sign of a leak was seen during the first overflight Friday.

But during a second flight late Friday, Coast Guard members spotted a sheen. Two other flyovers found it had expanded, with an original estimate of a five-mile sheen later reduced to three miles.

The Coast Guard released Saturday the names of the five crew members of Vicious Fisher: Christopher Powel, Steve Sanderson, John Markham, Garrett Dokter and Mathew Steffens.

The owner of the boat is Larrs Stanberg, Roscoe said. He was not onboard when the boat went down.

KOMO-TV said three of the crew members were back in Raymond on Saturday after they were safely rescued Thursday.

“I didn’t want to watch it go down,” Sanderson said.

“I didn’t want to be a part of this; I didn’t ever want to be in a survival suit.”

Sanderson, Markham and Dokter told KOMO they don’t know why the boat began taking on water.

They tried to pump the water out, but it was pouring in too quickly.

“We had four pumps, and we had two or three of them going ,” Markham said.

“We were doing everything we could do, and by that time, it was ‘Thank God the Coast Guard is here.'”

The Coast Guard arrived quickly after the crew issued a distress call at 2 p.m.

A MH-65C Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles and a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Coast Guard Station Quillayute River were on the scene by 2:40 p.m.

“They just came out of the fog right on us,” Dokter said, “and [it was], ‘Yes! Finally.'”

Those aboard the fishing boat were told at about 4 p.m. to get into the water so they could be picked up by the lifeboat.

Four of the crew members complied at that time.

“The master refused to leave until the boat sank,” said Lt. Courtney Higgins, Coast Guard command duty officer.

“He finally agreed to be removed when the owner said it’s not worth it” at about 6 p.m., Higgins said.

All those aboard were wearing survival suits, Higgins said, and suffered no hypothermia or injuries.

All watched from the safety of the lifeboat as Vicious Fisher went down.

“It was just eerie,” Markham said. “Something you’d lived on.”

Vicious Fisher has been in the news before.

In 2009, a young crew member went overboard and was lost at sea.

Last March, the boat’s crew saved crew members from another fishing boat, Sundown, that was in trouble off Neah Bay.

These three crew members weren’t onboard that time and told KOMO-TV that this time, no fishing vessels were near enough to come to their rescue — only the Coast Guard.

“They were perfect,” Dokter said. “Their boats were within distance; the chopper never left until the boat got there, and it stayed as long as it could — I have nothing but good things to say about the Coast Guard.”


Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or

All materials Copyright © 2010 Horvitz Newspapers.

~ by fredfelleman on February 6, 2011.

3 Responses to “Three-mile sheen spotted in vicinity where boat sank off Pacific coast”

  1. i bought your whale watching photography cruise at the Hanford Challenge event. i’d love to speak with you to set it up. my phone # is 206 782 2300

  2. Fred:

    Instead of taking our story and putting it on your website, could you do a brief summary, then a link to our story? Many thanks.

    John Brewer, publisher, Peninsula Daily News

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