TULALIP — When a 60-foot commercial fishing boat sank in Tulalip Bay recently, the Tulalip Tribes were ready to keep it from becoming an environmental disaster.
That’s because last summer they applied for, and received, a $25,000 grant from the state for a trailer with equipment that contains and absorbs oil spills. They also got training in using the new equipment.
When the St. Nicholas sank on Sept. 23 — no one was injured — the equipment kept oil and gas from the boat from reaching the shore, Tulalip police Lt. Robert Myers said.
This was important, because if petroleum reaches the shoreline, “cleanup is very hard and very, very expensive,” Myers said.
The equipment consists of floating vinyl booms that contain floating oil and gas, and pads made of synthetic material made to absorb petroleum products but not water, Myers said.
From the time the boat began to sink, Myers was on the scene in less than an hour, he said. Within another hour, the boat was surrounded with eight rings of protection, Myers said.
First were individual absorbent 18-by-18-inch pads; second were larger 5-by-10-foot pads strung together in sections; third were more individual pads; fourth were more pads in sections; fifth and sixth were two rings of the vinyl booming; seventh was another ring of absorbent pads, and eighth were more individual pads.
The pads were continually replaced with more pads until there was no more oil or gas for them to absorb, Myers said.
The quick action got the equipment in place by the time the boat shifted and the gas began pouring out at a faster rate, Myers said.
Ballard Salvage was called to pump out the oil and gas that remained in the boat — it carried 70 gallons of fuel — and the boat was raised two days later.
The operation cost an estimated $40,000, Myers said — $ 20,000 to Ballard Salvage and $20,000 in equipment and tribal staff time, he said. The owners of the boat, a nontribal enterprise, are being billed, Myers said.
The equipment was pressed into action when a smaller vessel, a 32-foot tribal fishing boat, sank in early October, Myers said. The small amount of fuel was quickly contained and did not threaten the shoreline, he said.
The timing of the tribes’ receiving the equipment could not have been more fortuitous, tribal chairman Mel Sheldon Jr. said. He said he couldn’t recall any accidents in the past as threatening to the bay and the fishermen’s nets as the recent episode.
When the accident happened, “I saw that we had the right equipment and the right training to contain that situation,” Sheldon said.
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