UPDATE | Quick work by fire department prevents major spill by sunken tugboat

Pads to soak up fuel and oil float near the wheelhouse of the tugboat
Pads to soak up fuel and oil float near the wheelhouse of the tugboat 'Chickamauga' after it sank Tuesday in Eagle Harbor.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department said quick work by its firefighters prevented a wider pollution spill after a nearly 100-year-old tugboat sank Tuesday at the Eagle Harbor Marina.

The fire department has a trailer of oil-spill response materials located behind Station 21 through a cooperative venture with the Department of Ecology. Assistant Chief Luke Carpenter of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department said three firefighters were able to extend 300 feet of an oil-spill boom around the 70-foot-long tugboat "Chickamauga" soon after it sank.

"Today we had the resources, luckily enough," Carpenter said.

Maneuvering the oil-spill boom into place was a bit tricky, given that sections of the boom come in 100-foot pieces that are 2-feet high.

"It's like trying to wrestle with a snake," Carpenter said.

The fire department was notified that the tugboat was sinking at about 9:30 a.m. Emergency responders could see fuel starting to come from the vessel as they put the boom in place.

"They got down there early, before the fuel actually began leaking," Carpenter said. "We could see it was coming."

"When the heavy oil started coming to the surface, we were able to keep it inside the contained area," he said.

Approximately 10 to 15 gallons of oil has been spilled but contained, Carpenter said.

"Our guys made a difference. That was a good, hard effort on their parts," he said.

The Coast Guard has now assumed command of the scene.

Carpenter said that Global Diving & Salvage, Inc., a Seattle-based contractor, has been hired to come in and assess the sunken vessel.

"Probably the plan will be to start plugging the leaks of where the fuel oil is leaking out, and try to offload the fuel oil, and do what they can to get the boat back on the surface," he said.

The vessel is resting on the bottom of the harbor under about 15 feet of water, although the deckhouse and wheelhouse was still above the surface of the water shortly before noon.

The tide is coming in, which will mean another eight or nine feet or so of the boat will be submerged later today.

The sunken vessel is not a safety concern — there is no power to the boat and the fuel that has leaked is not flammable — and Carpenter said it's largely an issue of clean-up at this point.

The Coast Guard will likely bring in a skimmer to retrieve the fuel that has escaped, he said.

Divers from Global Diving & Salvage are currently at the scene, as well as the Coast Guard and officials from the Department of Ecology.





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