Unified Command makes salvage plans for ferry LeConte
JUNEAU, Alaska - Last night and throughout the day Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) and commercial salvage crews continued to stabilize the grounded ferry LeConte from flooding and damages sustained when it struck Cozian Reef in Peril Strait at 10 a.m. Monday while en route Sitka from Angoon. Yesterday, Coast Guard Search and Rescue teams and other nearby mariners successfully evacuated passengers and crewmembers with three reported minor injuries. After rescue operations were completed, a Unified Command comprised of the U.S. Coast Guard, the AMHS and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation immediately began taking actions to assess damages, ensure the safety of salvage personnel on board, mitigate the potential for environmental damages, and plan for the eventual salvage of the vessel.
Initially, all personnel were evacuated from the vessel until a thorough assessment of damage was completed and it was determined that the vessel was safely secured in place and in no immediate danger of sinking and/or capsizing. Divers reported damage to the vessel's keel (the backbone of a ship) and two gashes on both sides of the vessel. The port side gash is approximately one foot wide by 40-feet long. The starboard side gash is approximately two feet wide by 30-feet long, and extends into void tanks under the vessel's main engine room. Naval Architects working for AMHS and the Coast Guard advised commercial salvage teams on the vessel's stability and the vessel was secured with five anchors, three attached to the bow, and two attached to the stern.
With the vessel secured, and weather favorable for the next 24-to-48 hours, steps are planned to mitigate the threat of an oil spill. The Southeast Alaska Pollution Response Organization (SEAPRO) spill response vessel Neka Bay is on scene and has deployed 1,000 feet of containment boom completely surrounding the LeConte. The LeConte contains about 30,000 gallons of light fuel oil. Salvage plans include removing most of the fuel, and other oily liquids from the vessel as soon as safely possible. Divers continue to assess hull damage. A team of Coast Guard and AMHS personnel boarded the LeConte today to carry out maintenance and make salvage preparations.
The Coast Guard had two vessels on scene for most of the day Tuesday and have released one vessel now that more commercial vessels have arrived on scene and more are en route. The tugboats, Thunderbird, and Chahunta, and support vessels, Glacier and Stella are also on scene assisting in salvage operations. Professional salvors from Crowley Marine are at the LeConte and the state-of-the-art salvage vessel, American Salvor, a 213-foot long vessel specially equipped for marine salvage departed Seattle, Wash., at noon today and is due on scene sometime Saturday.
The Unified Command is also working with native communities, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to identify environmentally, historically, and culturally sensitive areas that may be affected near the site in order to protect these areas in the event of a spill from the vessel.
Concurrent with the salvage operations, a Coast Guard investigating officer inspected the vessel Monday for physical damages and began collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. A National Transportation Safety Board representative arrived today from Anchorage and both will be involved in investigating the cause of the grounding.
Luggage and personal belongings from passengers have been recovered and delivered to Sitka for distribution to owners. Plans to remove the vehicles are being formulated and vehicles may be removed when and if the situation permits. A safety zone is in place and mariners are advised to maintain a half-mile distance from the vessel, so as not to impede salvage operations. A notice to all aircraft to stay clear of the area is also in effect. The AMHS is the point of contact for concerns about luggage or vehicles. For more information, please contact Mr. Rodney Stitt with the AMHS at (907) 465-2081.
For updated media information on the salvage efforts, please contact the Unified Command Joint Information Center at (907) 463-2863 (desk).