Only 1/2 left

Savage winds and raging seas have nearly sunk the front half of the grounded freighter Selendang Ayu, dashing hopes that any oil still on board might be removed.
.
Only the tip of the football field-long section was visible Thursday during a flight over the shipwreck. Two days earlier, before a major storm slammed the area with winds gusting to 75 mph and seas to 20 feet, the whole bow section was afloat. It was thought to contain as much as 176,000 gallons of thick brown bunker oil.
.
But after viewing photos of the nearly sunken section, "I think we can make the assumption it lost its load," said Leslie Pearson of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
Salvage experts said it appeared that the forward tank still had oil, which they thought was helping keep the bow afloat. They had hoped to board the section, pump the remaining oil into portable tanks, then haul the tanks some 27 air miles back to Unalaska with heavy-lift helicopters.
.
The rear portion of the 738-foot ship, which ran aground Dec. 8 on a remote shoal on Unalaska Island and then split in half, is no longer listing. But oil spill response commanders say that could be a sign the section is slowly crumbling.
.
They still hope to remove any oil still in the ship's three aft tanks that originally held a total of 191,000 gallons of bunker and almost 20,000 gallons of lighter diesel oil. They are still waiting for equipment to arrive and weather to cooperate before they can begin.
.
In the meantime, state officials hope to undertake tests this weekend to see whether oil has settled to the sea floor around the wreck and how it might affect a crab fishery scheduled to begin Jan. 15.
.
But after hurricane-force winds raked the island earlier this week, the bow section appeared to slide off the shoal on which it was grounded, said Unalaska salvage expert Dan Magone, of Magone Marine Services.
.
"Apparently it was right at the edge of a shoal and it sloughed off" during the storm, Magone said.
.
A light sheen of oil was visible, and little new oil has been seen on nearby beaches, Pearson said. It's hard to say how or when the forward tank may have lost its load, she said. "It could've been releasing some oil from the get-go," she said. "Since we're not seeing much sheen on water, or even in new shoreline locations, it's probably been slowly releasing it over time. But nobody's been in the field (checking beaches) the last couple days, so it's hard to say. "Regardless when it spilled, Pearson said, "It's still there. It's got to be on the beach or somewhere."
.
Even if the bow section slips completely beneath the surface, Pearson said the state will require the ship owners to remove the wreckage, or at least demonstrate why they can't. "They'll have to take a good, hard look at what approaches could be made to remove both sections," she said. "If we can put divers on a subsea pipeline in Cook Inlet to work on (oil) releases," the owners will be expected to consider some way to remove the underwater wreckage of the Selendang Ayu, she said.
.
Oil removal from the aft section is expected to begin around Jan. 1. That still looks feasible, Pearson said. Tests this weekend should provide the first glimpse of how much oil has settled to the bottom of Skan Bay and nearby Makushin Bay. The state will drop crab pots with absorbent pads to see whether any of the heavy bunker oil has sunk.
.
At the same time, crab pots will be baited as usual to see whether crab have ingested oil or been smeared by it.
.
In other tests, a trawl net outfitted with absorbent pads will be towed through the water at different depths and a crab boat will put pads in its circulating water tanks to see if oil is suspended in the water.
.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game hopes to decide as soon as Monday whether to conduct the bairdi tanner crab fishery set to begin Jan. 15.