Commercial Fishing Vessel Sinks off Washington’s San Juan Islands

Response vessels with vacuum trucks on board off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Image: U.S. Coast Guard.

The commercial fishing vessel Aleutian Isle sank off the San Juan Islands in Washington state on Aug. 13. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, all five crewmembers were rescued by a Good Samaritan as the vessel sank.

The vessel was reported by the USCG to have about 2,600 gallons of diesel fuel onboard, as well as 100 gallons of hydraulic fluid and lubricant oil. After the vessel sank, responders observed a sheen spanning about three miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Response and Restoration.

OR&R provided trajectory assistance for the spilled oil, as well as facilitating Endangered Species Act consultation with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service for Southern Resident killer whales that are at risk in the area.

Days after the sinking, a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) found the vessel upright more than 200 feet below the surface. Operators of the ROV were able to see that no major fractures appeared anywhere on the hull and the fuel tanks remain intact, according to officials.

The entire vessel was eventually moved from the seafloor and placed on a barge where the contaminant problem could be safely addressed.

“This will ensure the removal of as much (of the) pollutants and contamination as possible, and completely remove the threat to the environment,” the Washington State Department of Ecology explained in a statement.

Daily flights have shown the amount of oil sheening was minimal, department officials said in late August. Crews added additional absorbent boom to ensure environmentally sensitive areas are protected in case any sheening moves closer to land.

The Aleutian Isle is an 18-meter long (59 feet) and six-meter wide (19.7 feet) U.S.-flagged vessel. The cause of the boat’s sinking is under investigation.