The Seattle Times
COUPEVILLE — Crews are rushing to figure out how to raise a sunken a fishing vessel that’s threatening Whidbey Island’s famous Penn Cove mussel beds.
The Seattle Times reported that responders have already recovered 1,400 gallons of oil that leaked from the derelict boat after it caught fire and sank two weeks ago. The mussels’ peak spawning season is now, and their harvest has been closed until they are cleared by toxicity tests.
The 140-foot vessel weighs maybe 750,000 pounds, and is on its side in 50 to 60 feet of water. State officials and contractors are planning to raise it early this week. Until they lift it to just below the surface of the water, they won’t know whether they’ll be able to weld a patch in the hull and tow it to a shipyard, or whether they’ll have to haul it onto a barge. There’s some danger the boat could break in two.
“We can patch a six-inch hole by welding underwater. But a 10-by-15-foot hole, it’s not worth it,” said Kris Lindberg, environmental-operations manager for Global Diving &Salvage, the Seattle-based contractor that will lift the boat from the seabed.
Overseeing the operation is Dick Walker, the state Department of Ecology’s on-scene coordinator. He’s 61 and has been with the agency for 27 years, 15 of them dealing with oil spills. His BlackBerry rings constantly as he works out of a converted Chevy Kodiak command truck.
“We are always thinking, what could go wrong. What sounds like a good idea, and what could go wrong?” he said.
Walker has been tracking the cost of the recovery on his laptop. It could top $1 million, he said.
A crew of five or six divers, plus survey work on the wreck, is $10,600 a day. Two crane barges, with their crews and tugboat, run $70,000 per day. Cost of the boom and boats that encircle the sunken vessel and stop the leaking oil from spreading? $14,000 a day.
The owner of the sunken boat, Rory Westmoreland, a scrap dealer, carried no insurance on the boat, said Walker. Westmoreland has said he has no money to pay for the cleanup, although the state says it will seek reimbursement. While private facilities can demand that boats moored there carry insurance, there’s no such requirement for parking your boat on Puget Sound.
“To a certain extent, boating in Puget Sound is like the last of the Wild West,” Walker said.
You moor a boat at a private facility, it’ll demand you carry insurance. There is no such law about parking your boat on Puget Sound, says Walker.
The recovery plan calls for two link chains, each 90 feet long, each attached to its own crane. Divers will tunnel through the silt under the hull with jet pumps, then run a line through the tunnel and hook it to the chain.
They’ll also blow out the silt that has accumulated inside the boat to lighten it. They’ve already pumped 3,100 gallons of fuel safely from the tanks, but there could be more onboard.
Ian Jefferds, co-owner of Penn Cove Shellfish, says his company is losing $50,000 a day from not being able to harvest not only the mussels, but also clams and oysters it grows at Penn Cove. It has been able to partially mitigate those losses by harvesting at its facility at Quilcene Bay.
“Without question,” he said, “it hurts.”