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Coast Guard deploys 'Strike Team' to help with sunken vessel's removal

Jerzy Shedlock
The Lone Star sank in the Igushik River and the resulting oil sheen caused the red salmon commercial fishery there to close. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team, a cadre of specially-equipped guardsmen deployed to hazardous situations nationwide, are headed to southwest Alaska’s Igushik River to help remove the sunken vessel Lone Star, which caused the closure of a commercial fishery.

The team, which includes some of the Coast Guard’s top emergency responders, will help state and local response crews already on the river, said Lt. Jason Gangel, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s chief of response.

The Pacific team is part of the guard’s National Strike Force, which includes more than 200 active, civilian, rescue, reserve and auxiliary personnel. There are specific teams designated for the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions.

Last month, the Atlantic team help salvage the Marseilles Dam on the Illinois River after seven 200-foot barges containing steel coils, ore, concrete and chemicals broke free from a tugboat and rammed it. Typically, the team deals with released hazardous materials and oil spills.

The Atlantic team’s counterpart should have few problems removing the 78-foot Lone Star. The vessel sank with a reported 35,000 pounds of fish, 14,000 gallons of diesel, 150 gallons of lube oil, 150 gallons of hydraulic fluid and 250 gallons of gasoline aboard.

The vessel capsized June 30 after its anchor chain got caught in its tranductor line, damaging the hull. The accident closed commercial fisheries until July 1 -- but fishing was closed again on July 5, due to leaking fluid.

Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game has flown over the river many times since Lone Star sank, and officials regularly spotted a sheen flowing downstream. A two-mile sheen was visible in the Igushik Wednesday, but by Friday it had dissipated.

According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Situation Report, the amount of petroleum spilled is unknown.

Divers finished sealing the fuel vents aboard the Lone Star on Tuesday, and they plan to begin funneling its fluids from the vessel once the necessary equipment and vessels are in place.

Fish and Game will reopen the salmon fishery once it’s certain no signs of pollution remain. The commercial fishery has lost more than $100,000 due to the closure, said Tim Sands, area biologist for the state's commercial fisheries division on the west side of Bristol Bay.

Lone Star’s owner hired Alaska Chadux Corporation to help clean up any pollution.  The vessel's owner is taking full responsibility for the cost of the cleanup and retrieval, the Coast Guard says.

It’s been less than a month since the Pacific Strike Team was deployed to Alaska. The team helped with a 15-day response and cleanup of leaking containers aboard the cargo ship BBC Arizona in Valdez. 

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com