Year-in-review, #1: Oil still sits in wrecked freighter

Friday, December 31, 2004 - by Dan Fiorucci

Anchorage, Alaska - Of KTUU’s top 10 Alaska stories of 2004, only one is expected change in a significant way over the next few days. It's the story of the wrecked freighter in the Aleutian Islands. That wreck cost six crewmembers of the Selendang Ayu their lives when a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter sent to rescue them crashed after being hit by a huge wave.
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Now the freighter, which had almost 500,000 gallons of oil aboard when it ran aground 23 days ago, sits broken in two. Almost one month later, not a single drop of bunker C oil has been offloaded from the Selendang Ayu. But if weather permits, that could change as early as Tuesday.
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While the island of Unalaska waited weeks for the heavy-lift helicopter to be put in place, absolutely no other attempt to offload oil from the Selendang Ayu has occurred.
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In the meantime, the bow of the ship, which contains 176,000 gallons of heavy bunker C oil, has sunk. Even before it went under, its oil tanks were known to be venting to the sea.
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“We have tugs of adequate power and maneuverability to safely maneuver a barge next to the freighter,” said Tom Lakosh, a public interest advocate.
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Two years ago, Lakosh won an oil spill response case against the Department of Environmental Conservation in the Alaska Supreme Court. Today he says it was a mistake to rely solely on the heavy-lift helicopter to remove oil from the Selendang Ayu.
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Lakosh says the trans-rec barge should have been brought in immediately to start offloading the Selendang Ayu during good weather windows while the Unified Command waited for the heavy-lift helicopter to arrive.
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“I'm sure that the barge could safely maneuver and operate in seas of approximately 6 to 10 feet given the capability of the tugs we have,” Lakosh said.
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Lakosh says the towing drill, conducted in 10-foot seas, demonstrates that high-powered Alyeska tugs stationed in Prince William Sound could have safely maneuvered the trans-rec barge a few hundred feet from the Selendang Ayu. That means offloading could have begun by now.

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“We've had weather windows quite large enough to totally remove the oil to date,” Lakosh said. “Alls they would need would be a half a day to be able to remove the remaining oil.”

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The idea of bringing in ships immediately to start offloading the Selendang Ayu has tremendous appeal to the people of Unalaska.

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“If you've had some people saying that they can bring vessels alongside and pump out, if that's still a possibility during weather windows, I'd go for it,” Unalaska resident Susie Golodoff said.
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Many Unalaska residents have argued in favor of ship-lightering right from the start of the tragedy. But a representative of the shipper insists using heavy-lift helicopters alone is the best plan for lightering the wreck.

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“This proposal was the one that was accepted. It was not the least expensive, but it was one that the experts felt had the highest probability of success,” said Howard Hile of Gallagher Marine.
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The Unified Command said tonight that even though the trans-rec barge and tugs are designed to operate in heavy seas, it's not safe to operate them so close to shore. They believe the helicopter plan is the safest plan for lightering in the Aleutians in winter.
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I've printed some of that article in bold to get your attention. It's getting more and more obvious that there has got to be a better way of getting the oil off of that wreck. There has been very little acomplished since the disaster happened because of weather. If there are ways that aren't so effected by the weather, they should be highly considered. Or, can they both be attepted during the same time? This is dragging out too long. Lets get this thing cleaned up and behind us. Let us also learn from this.

Have a Safe & Happy New Year!
Dave