ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A crippled cargo ship carrying nearly a half million gallons of fuel oil was under tow toward a safe harbor Sunday, easing concerns the vessel could go aground in Alaska's remote Aleutian Islands.
The 738-foot Golden Seas with 20 crew members aboard was expected to reach Dutch Harbor, 275 miles away, early Tuesday, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr told The Associated Press. Initially the boat was estimated to arrive early Monday, but Warr said the tug boat captain decided to take a longer route south of the island chain to avoid rough seas and bad weather. The course change will add about 20 to 30 hours to the trip, Warr said.
The 18,000-horsepower Tor Viking II began its tow of the cargo ship late Saturday, a few hours after they rendezvoused in the Bering Sea, about 45 miles north of Atka Island.
Warr said the vessels were dealing with 20-foot waves but conditions were expected to improve over the next 24 hours.
The Coast Guard said fears that the ship would run aground had eased and it was in no immediate danger. There were no reports of injury among the crew of either vessel.
A Coast Guard cutter was en route and was expected to escort the vessels to Dutch Harbor, where the Golden Seas will undergo repairs.
The ship, with a full load of canola seed, suffered engine troubles in strong winds and rough seas Friday that caused it to drift toward Atka Island, about 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The weather eased during the night and with limited engine power was able to travel at about 3 to 4 mph away from land.
Responders said the vessel, which is managed by Allseas Marine, based in Athens, Greece, lost its turbo charger. That left it without enough power to overcome 29-foot seas and winds blowing at 45 mph.
Petty Officer David Mosley said the Liberia-flagged ship is carrying more than 457,500 gallons of fuel oil, nearly 12,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil.
The ship is en route from Vancouver, Canada, to the United Arab Emirates, the Coast Guard said.
The Golden Seas is the latest example of the challenges involved in responding to incidents in the remote region, said Whit Sheard, an Oceana attorney who sits on the Aleutian Island Risk Assessment Advisory Panel, established with criminal settlement funds from the grounding of the Selendang Ayu six years ago.
The ship, the same size of the Golden Seas, ran aground Dec. 8, 2004, and broke apart on the north side of Unalaska Island, also in the Aleutians. About 66,000 tons of soybeans were lost.
During rescue operations, a rogue wave crashed into a Coast Guard helicopter lifting Selendang Ayu crew members from the freighter, and the aircraft crashed. Six of the 10 freighter crew members were killed.
Sheard said emergencies such as Friday's event again illustrate the crucial need for better response mechanisms, such as larger tugs in the area. Unalaska's Dutch Harbor is the only port in the region with a possible response vessel, according to Sheard, who was among those monitoring the response to the Golden Seas.