December 27, 2009
Tug grounds on Bligh Reef
A tug stationed in Alaska as part of post-Exxon Valdez antipollution precautions, grounded on Bligh Reef, Prince William Sound, on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
Crowley has a contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS) under which Crowley provides tug escorts for tankers traveling through Prince William Sound to and from the Valdez Marine Terminal. Crowley also provides secure docking and undocking operations at the oil product loading terminals.
The 136-foot Crowley tug Pathfinder, whose primary use is ship assist in the Port of Valdez, had completed an ice survey and was heading back to Valdez when it struck the reef Wednesday evening.
Vessel Traffic System Prince William Sound personnel received a radio call at 6:15 p.m. from Pathfinder's master via VHF radio reporting the grounding.
The Pathfinder cleared the reef and proceeded to deeper waters at about 6:50 p.m. Anchoring just south of Busby Island, the tug's six crewmembers deployed 200-feet of fuel containment booms around the vessel.
Two of the tug's centerline diesel fuel tanks were reported breached with a potential spill of 33,500 gallons. The total capacity of the vessel is approximately127,700 gallons of diesel fuel. None of the crewmembers were reported injured.
The spill created a light gray or silver diesel sheen spanning an area approximately three miles long and 30 yards wide approximately one mile east of Glacier Island.
The Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Conservation, Crowley Marine, Ship Escort Response Vessel System and O'Brien's Group as part of the incident management team responded to the grounding.
A dive team transported by the vessel Alaska Challenger to conduct a hull inspection, reported extensive damage to the hull, including a 4-5 foot section of the keel missing.
Early Friday morning, Crowley began lightering diesel fuel from the Pathfinder's two damaged fuel tanks. The pumping to remove the fuel started at 12:34 a.m. and stopped at 12:45 a.m. after the lightering team noticed a sheen developing on the surface of the water within the boom. The unified command later authorized the restarting of lightering reporting a good fuel flow as of 4:15 p.m. Crews were able to remove more than 49,000 gallons of a diesel water mix from the damaged fuel tanks by the time lightering concluded.
Crowley response teams working with the unified command scrubbed any excess fuel from the exterior of the tug in preparation for towing the Pathfinder to Valdez.
After a ten-hour approximately 20-mile transit through Prince William Sound, the Pathfinder was reported safely moored at the Valdez Petroleum Terminal in the Port of Valdez at 12:56 a.m., Sunday.
"Now that the Pathfinder has returned to Valdez, we will focus on decontamination and demobilization of resources and further assessment of the vessel's condition," said Walt Tague, Crowley Incident Commander. "Crowley appreciates all the hard work of the responders and Unified Command over Christmas and under difficult conditions to get the Pathfinder back to Valdez safely."
Crews will continue working aboard the Pathfinder in the coming days to further assess damage to the vessel and removal of fuel remaining on the vessel.
The incident is under investigation by the Coast Guard. Crowley is cooperating fully with the investigation while focusing on decontaminating the vessels and equipment used and demobilizing resources. Results of the investigation will be made available once it is complete.