Sunday, April 4, 2010

UPDATE: State's emergency response tug escorting tug and barge to Port Angeles

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager

The state-funded emergency response tug Hunter is escorting a tug and fully loaded petroleum barge today (Sunday, April 4) to Port Angeles for inspection and possible repairs.

The Hunter met up with the tug Corpus Christi at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday about 40 miles southwest of the Columbia River entrance. The Hunter stood by through the night in case the articulated tug and barge (ATB) needed assistance. This morning, because of continued rough bar conditions on the Columbia River and a forecast for conditions to worsen, tug and barge owner U.S. Shipping Corp. decided to move the vessels north to Port Angeles for repairs.

The Coast Guard and Ecology have agreed with the change in plans. The Hunter is under contract to U.S. Shipping Corp. for the voyage.

On Friday afternoon, Ecology was notified that the connection between the tug Corpus Christi and barge Petrochem Supplier began overheating. The ATB had experienced problems after heading south from Puget Sound with a full load of oil bound for California. The ATB turned back north, intending to enter the Columbia River for repairs.

Heavy seas and periodic high winds prevented the ATB from safely entering the river. As a precautionary measure, the Coast Guard ordered the ATB to remain offshore of the Columbia River bar to wait out the weather. However, weather conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow the ATB to safely cross the bar for several days.

The barge is loaded with about 150,000 barrels of oil (6.3 million gallons) of heavy vacuum gas oil. Vacuum gas oil is a heavy residual oil from the petroleum refining process. It behaves like a heavy persistent fuel oil if spilled.

The ATB is proceeding to Port Angeles for inspection and repairs at normal sea speed for weather conditions. Appropriate industry technical experts, along with Coast Guard and Ecology vessel inspectors, will participate in the inspection. Final plans will be developed by the company and approved by the Coast Guard.

The Corpus Christi is a modern (delivered 2009) twin screw-twin rudder tug operating in an articulated tug barge arrangement. The powerful tug powers and steers the barge from the stern. The tug’s crew has reported no injuries or pollution. The company and Coast Guard are taking all necessary precautions for a safe resolution to the situation.

The vessels are expected to arrive in Port Angeles early Monday. The Hunter will switch roles with another Crowley Maritime tug, the Valor, as the Corpus Christi passes Neah Bay this evening.

Ecology maritime experts and responders will continue to work closely with the Coast Guard, the company and other partners to closely monitor the situation. They will ensure proper precautions are taken with the goal of protecting the crew and the state’s natural and economic resources.

For updates, check the web page that Ecology established for this incident.

The tug Hunter is stationed at Neah Bay year-round to respond to shipping incidents that pose a pollution threat to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Washington’s outer coast. Crowley Maritime holds the emergency response tug contract with Ecology through June 30, 2010. Funding responsibility for the Neah Bay tug will shift from the state to the maritime industry beginning July 1, 2010.

Since 1999, this is the 45th time a publicly funded Neah Bay response tug has stood by or assisted vessels. During 11 of the responses, the tug attached a towline to a disabled vessel and brought it under tow as a safety precaution.

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