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Unified Command Press Releases

May 11, 2004- 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.

May 12, 2004- LeConte Situation Report

JUNEAU, Alaska -- The LeConte is anchored with 5 anchors and surrounded by an oil containment boom. There is no change in the status of the vessel. Two Coast Guard strike team members and one DEC response team member have arrived on scene to oversee the lightering. There is no oil leaking from the LeConte and boom has been placed around the vessel as a precautionary measure. Safety of all responders continues to be the primary Unified Command objective.

All landowners and tribal organizations in the area have been notified of the incident and potential environmental impacts.

Capt. Habib, the Crowley Salvage Master, is on scene and in contact with the dive team.

Coast Guard Cutter MAPLE is patrolling the area to enforce the one-half mile safety zone around the stricken ferry.

Airspace restriction has been reduced to two miles.

The Incident Command is developing a transit implementation plan for after the LeConte has been removed from Cozian Reef.

May 12, 2004- Unified Command Investigates Cause of LeConte Grounding

JUNEAU, Alaska - Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Juneau and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators interviewed four members of the LeConte watch crew last night as part of its ongoing investigation into the ferry's grounding on Cozian Reef. At approximately 9:55 a.m. on Monday, the LeConte struck the reef and evacuated 86 passengers to lifeboats.

The Coast Guard and NTSB jointly interviewed the following LeConte personnel who were on watch at the time of the grounding: Captain Harvey Williamson, Chief Mate William Petrich, Able Bodied Seaman Richard Burroughs and 1st Assistant Engineer Jeffrey Meehan.

All personnel have tested negative for alcohol. Drugs test results will not be available for at least two weeks.

The Alaska Marine Highway is cooperating fully and assisting with the investigation in the cause of the LeConte's grounding.

The Coast Guard is in possession of the Voyage Data Recorder, which contains navigation as well as radio transmission information.

The Coast Guard has also obtained statements from additional crewmembers and passengers in an effort to determine the cause of the grounding. Investigators have also collected additional information from the vessel to verify conditions onboard at the time of the incident.

Investigators reported that weather conditions were favorable for navigation on Monday and no mechanical failures have been identified.

The investigation into the cause of the grounding is ongoing. Conclusions detailing the cause of the incident will be released upon completion of the investigation.

May 12, 2004- Unified Command Schedules Media Briefing

Juneau, Alaska--The Unified Command will brief the media on the status of M/V LeConte salvage operations at 6:00 p.m. today at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office. Coast Guard Commander John Sifling, AMHS General Manager John Falvey and DEC's On-Scene Coordinator Bob Mattson will be available for comments.

Please note, Unified Command members will have just returned from the grounding scene at approximately 5 p.m. The briefing is scheduled for 6 p.m. to allow for changes in the flight schedule. Please be prepared to be flexible with regard to these circumstances.

WHO: Unified Command members Coast Guard Commander John Sifling, AMHS General Manager John Falvey and DEC's Bob Mattson
WHAT: Media briefing on status of M/V LeConte salvage operations
WHEN: 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12, 2004
WHERE: Coast Guard Marine Safety Office (2760 Sherwood Lane, 2nd Floor, Juneau)

May 13, 2004- Salvage Operators Evaluate LeConte's Stability, Transit Plan Under Review

Juneau, Alaska-Salvage operators boarded the LeConte this morning to evaluate the ferry's stability. The vessel developed a 4.5-degree starboard list last night during the fuel transfer, which was stopped with about 7,000 gallons remaining. The vessel settled onto an even keel this morning with the outgoing tide and is considered to be sufficiently stable for operations to resume.

The Unified Command reports that fuel and oil removal has recommenced. An oil containment boom surrounds the vessel and immediate area around the grounding site as an added precautionary measure.

Now that underwater assessments have provided a better understanding of the damage to the LeConte's hull, a preliminary salvage plan has been submitted to Unified Command and is under review. In the unlikely event of a spill, Unified Command has received approval for an oil spill response migratory bird hazing permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as part of its wildlife protection plan. Hazing is an approved rousing method used to temporarily displace birds from oiled habitats. Environmentally sensitive areas such as seal and sea lion haulouts, shorebird habitats, anadromous streams and shorelines have been identified and charted. Additional waste management systems are being implemented to address solid waste issues as salvage operations continue.

Today, the LeConte salvage team will look at vehicle off-load and transfer plans as they relate to vessel stability. The Alaska Marine Highway is personally contacting all passengers to assure them that their vehicles and belongings will be delivered to them as soon as possible.

May 15, 2004- Unified Command Situation Report

There is no change in the LeConte's overall stability. Safety for the salvage operators and involved parties remains a high priority.

All of the passenger vehicles have been safely offloaded without incident to a barge towed by the tug Chahunta, which will arrive in Sitka around 1 PM today. The Chahunta will return on-scene to act as a support vessel for the operation.

The vessel American Salvor arrived on scene at 1000 today to assist in salvage operations, but there is no word on when the refloat will begin. The weather for salvage operations is favorable.

Approximately 2500 gallons of fuel remain on board to run generators, after the safe lightering of 16,600 gallons.

Several vessels will be departing the scene, the Poundstone, the Neka Bay and the tug Thunderbird.

The vessel transit plan drafted by the Unified Command is nearly complete. Crowley Marine Services, Inc. will assume control of the salvage operations.

May 17, 2004- LeConte Floating Freely, Salvors Transport to Ketchikan

Juneau, Alaska-The Unified Command reports that the LeConte floated free of Cozian Reef at 11:40 this morning. Salvage crews from Crowley Marine worked through the weekend to patch, plug and make the necessary fittings to prepare the LeConte to be re-floated.

Metal cofferdams, plywood, epoxy and neoprene patches which were used to temporarily plug holes and damaged areas on the hull. In places where the hull could not be patched, air compressors are being used to create a bubble for the ship to float on. With this buoyancy, the ship was able to float free of the reef at high tide and was towed to deeper water where dive teams took another look at the bottom. No additional damage was reported.

Tug Chuhunta is towing the LeConte from its bow. Coast Guard Cutter Liberty and the American Salvor are escorting the ship. Salvage teams had originally planned to anchor the LeConte in a nearby cove to apply more patches but operations have gone so well that crewmembers decided to immediately begin towing to Ketchikan for repair. Current speed is approximately five knots. Salvage crews expect to arrive in Ketchikan in approximately three days.

The Coast Guard has established a moving safety zone around the LeConte and her flotilla. Mariners are advised to maintain a 500-yard distance from the flotilla and to maintain a minimum safe speed while passing.

May 18, 2004- LeConte Sails to Ketchikan

Juneau, Alaska- The salvage team from Crowley Marine reported that things were proceeding well for the LeConte on the voyage from Cozian reef to Ketchikan. This morning at 8:30 AM the vessel was in South Chatham Strait South of Point Ellis. The speed for the flotilla was noted as approximately 5 knots.

Weather conditions on the voyage are reported as favorable and are expected to continue to be favorable for the remainder of the voyage.

A portion of the salvage crew remains on board the LeConte during the passage to monitor conditions on board the vessel. Salvage crews made plans today to remove a small amount of oil that was observed collecting on the surface of the water in various spaces within the LeConte after re-floating.

May 19, 2004- LeConte Continues on Vogage to Ketchikan

Juneau, Alaska- The LeConte under tow by the tug Chahunta continues to progress well on the voyage to Ketchikan. This morning at approximately 8:30 AM the vessel reported being in Sumner Strait near the entrance to Wrangell Narrows. The vessel is about 90 miles from Ketchikan.

The voyage weather continues to be favorable with almost no wind and very calm seas.

The American Salvor continues to escort the Chahunta and LeConte. A 500-yard moving safety zone remains in place around the vessel towline and Chahunta during the voyage to Ketchikan.

The LeConte is expected to arrive in Ketchikan on Thursday morning where the vessel is scheduled to berth at Alaska Ship & Drydock.

May 20, 2004- LeConte Arrives Safely in Ketchikan

Juneau, Alaska- The LeConte arrived in Ketchikan at 7:45 AM this morning. The vessel is moored safely at Alaska Ship & Dry-dock South Berth awaiting dry-dock availability. The contracted salvor, Crowley Marine, will remain on hand to assist in monitoring the LeConte's condition until the vessel is placed on dry-dock.

Once on dry-dock, the Coast Guard and Alaska Marine Highway will be able to fully assess the damage caused by the May 10th grounding. The Coast Guard will oversee all repairs prior to permitting the LeConte to be placed back into service.

The Unified Command post has been de-activated. For additional information, please contact public affairs officers directly as follows:

Lynda Giguere 
Public Information Officer 
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation 
Phone: (907) 465-5009 
Fax: (907) 465-5245

Daniel G. Buchsbum 
Public Affairs Officer 
Marine Safety Office Juneau, AK 
Phone: (907) 463-2475 
Fax: (907) 463-2454

Nona Wilson 
Legislative Liaison/Public Information Officer
Alaska Department of Transportation 
Phone: (907) 465-3904
Fax: (907) 586-8365

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