Sunken fishing vessel pulled from Salish Sea after ‘complex’ diving operation

The US Coast Guard says a fishing boat that sank in mid-August and had been leaking fuel in the Haro Strait between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island in Washington state was safely removed from the Salish Sea on Monday.

In a statement Thursday, the USCG said the Aleutian Isle was recovered, defueled and put on a salvage barge over a month after it sunk on Saturday, Aug. 13.

“We are so pleased to see the vessel safely out of the water,” said USCG Cmdr. Kira Moody.

Authorities say the boat, which had been carrying an estimated 9,460 liters of diesel fuel, no longer poses a significant threat to the environment.

It had been leaking light diesel fuel after it sank, which experts said is almost impossible to clean up. The coast guard had crews working to deter whales and birds from the spill site while divers worked to contain the fuel.

One major concern was the location of the spill, being in the middle of a critical southern resident killer whale habitat, an endangered species that often feeds on chinook salmon off San Juan Island.

“Although the vessel was removed from the water, we will still monitor for any residual fuel that could impact the shoreline or wildlife,” said Dave Byers, an on-scene co-ordinator with Washington’s Department of Ecology.

An oil slick is seen on the water near San Juan Island, Wash. on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. A fishing vessel that sank off the coast of the island, near Vancouver Island, has now been safely removed according to the US Coast Guard. (US Coast Guard)

While the fuel spill was in US waters, because there was potential for it to move into Canada, both US and Canadian coast guards responded.

American officials said the boat was recovered from over 75 meters of water on Sept. 17 “after weeks of complex dive operations.” They said the boat was towed to San Juan Island’s Mitchell Bay, where divers and response crews prepared it for the final lift out of the water on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the US Coast Guard said on-scene pollution responders reported no visible sheen in the incident area.

Officials said the boat will be brought to a mainland facility for further investigation into what caused it to sink and whether its crew will face fines for disobeying laws on water pollution.

The USCG says anyone who spots animals with oil can call the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-22-BIRDS.

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