Oil Spill Disaster Off Washington Coast Narrowly Averted
OLYMPIA, Washington, December 12, 2007 (ENS) – The Gladiator, the state-funded seasonal emergency response tug stationed at Neah Bay, was dispatched shortly before midnight last night to assist a tug towing a loaded oil barge after the vessel temporarily lost its primary electrical power and steering.
The Na Hoku was headed down Washington’s outer coast when its primary electrical generator engine failed about 12.5 miles west of Cape Flattery, the westernmost point of the continental United States.
The 105 foot tug was towing a fuel barge containing more than two million gallons of diesel fuel and about a half million gallons of gasoline.
The Na Hoku incident occurred outside of the voluntary “area to be avoided” within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Owned by Crowley Marine Services, the tug Gladiator is tied up at Neah Bay, Washington awaiting a call for help. (Photo courtesy Capt. Harry Gardner III)
“This incident highlights why we have – and continue to need – the capability of responding to vessels that can pose a serious risk to our environment if they lose power or propulsion,” said Dale Jensen, manager in charge of the Department of Ecology’s Spills Program.
“A 2.5 million gallon spill would have been catastrophic to our valuable marine resources,” Jensen said. “We need to maintain the safety net that the tug provides.”
Na Hoku’s main propulsion engines remained operable throughout the incident, and the vessel was able to maintain control of the barge tow and steering using its two propulsion engines during the power outage.
The crew was delayed starting a backup generator for about an hour due to a separate electrical problem.
The U.S. Coast Guard directed the tug to take the Gladiator as an escort. The response tug met the Na Hoku about eight miles west of Cape Flattery and accompanied the tug and barge into the Strait of Juan de Fuca for about 60 miles until both generators were back on line.
“In case the Na Hoku lost its electrical power again, I issued an order directing the tug to take an escort until moored safely,” said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Stephen Metruck, Captain of the Port for Sector Seattle. “We and the state wanted to be sure to mitigate any threat to public safety and the environment.”
Owned by K-Sea Transportation Partners L.C. in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Na Hoku and barge moored in Port Angeles to ensure that repairs are properly completed and systems are verified to be operating properly before they resume their voyage.
Jensen noted the state has contracted to station a standby emergency response tug at Neah Bay since spring 1999. The tug has stood by or assisted 36 ships that were disabled or had reduced maneuvering or propulsion capability while transporting oil and other cargo along the coast and through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The actions helped ensure the ships did not drift onto rocks and spill oil.
As recently as December 3, the Gladiator was dispatched after a 720 foot container vessel was struck by 60 foot waves near Cape Flattery that broke out windows on the ship’s bridge, swamping electrical gear and shutting down the vessel’s primary steering system.