ANCHORAGE — A barge carrying tens of thousands of gallons of fuel has broken loose from a tugboat in rough seas off Alaska’s west coast and was drifting south toward the Bering Strait.
The tugboat shadowed the barge overnight after it went loose Tuesday evening in 15-foot waves and winds that reached 46 mph. The tug has been able to maintain some control by pushing the 173-foot barge, and crew members were waiting for better weather before attempting to reconnect a tow line, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow said.
The Crowley Marine-operated vessel was carrying 140,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 5,800 gallons of gasoline. The Coast Guard, mindful of the amount of fuel that could be spilled, sent a C-130 airplane to the area on Wednesday.
“With the potential that this barge could run aground, the Coast Guard is working with and monitoring the Crowley tug crew as they attempt to re-establish the tow in safer weather conditions,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally said.
The crew of the 82-foot tug Sinuk contacted the Coast Guard at 6:23 p.m. Tuesday to report the barge had broken loose from its tow line about 46 miles north of the Kinugmiut Eskimo village of Wales.
The incident was first reported by KINY-AM.
By 11 a.m. Wednesday, the barge had drifted to 11 miles north of Wales. The village is on Cape Prince of Wales, which marks the Alaska side of the Bering Strait, a roughly 50-mile wide body of water that separates Alaska from Russia and the north Pacific Ocean from the Arctic Ocean.
The drifting barge was expected to stay close to Alaska’s mainland. Its trajectory would put it between Wales and Fairway Rock, a tiny island 17 miles west of Wales, Lally said.
Winds of 27 mph and 12 to 15-foot waves were reported late Wednesday morning.