Coast Guard reports progress at sunken fishing boat off San Juan Island

Aug 19, 2022, 6:10 AM

The Aleutian Isle sunk near San Juan Island, Washington (Canadian Coast Guard)...

The Aleutian Isle sunk near San Juan Island, Washington (Canadian Coast Guard)

(Canadian Coast Guard)

Two-hundred feet below the surface of Puget Sound, crews are figuring out how to retrieve potentially harmful items from the Aleutian Isle, the sunken fishing boat near San Juan Island.

The 49-foot boat sank on Saturday just off Sunset Point, north of Lime Kiln Point State Park. Five people onboard were rescued.

Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard, Washington State Department of Ecology, and other groups have been working to minimize the damage to nature.

Divers trying to recover oil from sunken fishing boat in San Juans

On Wednesday, divers found a 400-pound net that had come from the fishing boat. A crane lifted that net out of the water.

Divers are still trying to figure out how best to get to the 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel stored in tanks on the sunken fishing boat. Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier said the fuel could be vacuumed out, or the entire boat could possibly be lifted out of the water.

Progress is only able to be made in bits and pieces because the 200-foot depth and the location of the boat’s sinking present challenges. Strohmaier explained that “there are a lot of tidal currents, especially right there in that strait, with the water coming in and out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the ocean.” To be safe, divers can only go down a limited number of times in a day, when the currents are weakest.

“Unfortunately in this situation of where the wreck is located, we can’t have divers going down there at all hours of the day … at the apex of high tide and low tide, the currents slow down a lot, and that is the safest time that those divers can go down,” Strohmaier said.

The good news is, the Coast Guard has a remote-operated vehicle that can be used in place of divers. A kind of submarine-drone, the vehicle goes down to the wreck and submits live video of the sunken fishing boat, so that crews above the water can gain information and assess the situation.

“That ROV was able to go down and dive to the wreck itself, and able to see that the wreck was sitting just slightly below 200 feet and was more or less intact,” Strohmaier said.

From the ROV images, crews have learned that the boat is sitting upright with the bow slightly pointed up. This makes observation and retrieval of items much easier than if the boat were upside-down.

The other promising news, Strohmaier said, is that the ROV did not show any major leaks in the diesel tanks. While there is a slight amount of fuel escaping, as evidenced by small amounts of sheen on the water’s surface, this is being mitigated by 3,800 feet of absorbent boom that has been placed on the water to prevent the oil from reaching the shoreline.

Crews have not found any oiled wildlife, and they are deterring orcas from the area. There is a 1,000-yard zone set up around operations to prevent boaters from entering the area.

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Coast Guard reports progress at sunken fishing boat off San Juan Island