Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2006

Coast Guard looks at rules after grounding

ANCHORAGE - A diving assessment team was inspecting the Seabulk Pride for damage Saturday in Kachemak Bay, two days after the fuel tanker went aground on a Cook Inlet beach.

"We want to make sure the vessel was not compromised when it was sitting on the beach," Seabulk spokesman Jim Butler said.

The 575-foot tanker arrived in Kachemak Bay Friday afternoon, hours after it was refloated in Cook Inlet. Marine surveyors and other experts conducted an onboard inspection.

"It looks very good," Butler said. "We believe that once the vessel is released by the Coast Guard, it will be able to go about its business."

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, is investigating whether winter ice rules were followed in loading the Seabulk Pride before fast-moving ice floes broke its moorings at the Kenai Pipeline dock in Nikiski Thursday morning. The tanker ran aground about eight minutes later on a beach 200 yards away.

Nikiski is home to a Tesoro Alaska oil refinery. Tesoro Alaska leases the double-hulled tanker, which is owned by Seabulk International of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a subsidiary of SEACOR Holdings.

At the time of the mishap, the Seabulk Pride was being loaded with unleaded gasoline and a thick residual oil product. Nothing spilled out of the ship, but about 84 gallons of petroleum products spilled into Cook Inlet.

According to the Coast Guard, the tanker was carrying several kinds of petroleum products. Altogether it was carrying about 116,225 barrels of product, or nearly 5 million gallons.

NTSB releases report on Ketchikan crash

ANCHORAGE - The military-style plane that crashed in Ketchikan had been approved as airworthy by a mechanic certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report.

The mechanic inspected the Czech-made L-39 jet prior to the Jan. 25 crash, the NTSB said in the report released Friday. The Czech-made warplane is popular with some aviation enthusiasts.

The jet left the Palmer airport Jan. 23 and headed for Ketchikan, but diverted to Sitka because of bad weather, according to the NTSB.

On Jan. 25, the airplane departed from Sitka and headed for Bellingham, Wash., but again diverted due to bad weather. It headed to Ketchikan instead, the NTSB report says.

The aircraft circled in blowing snow to come in for a landing at the Ketchikan airport.

A pilot-rated witness reported seeing the jet quickly descend from the clouds above the Tongass Narrows and slam into the water about 200 yards from the shore. The jet skipped across the water three times, throwing up a spray, before regaining altitude, the report says.

The aircraft crashed a short distance away.

"After the water impact, other witnesses on shore reported seeing the airplane at tree-top level over the town of Ketchikan, and hearing engine sounds, but then the engine stopped making any sound," the report says. "The pilot was observed to eject form the airplane, but the ejection sequence was incomplete, and he struck the ground while still in his ejection seat."

The cause of the crash has not been determined. The NTSB said completion of its final report will take several months.

Witness set for deposition from Iraq

FAIRBANKS - A Fort Wainwright soldier serving in Iraq is scheduled for a phone deposition in the case of three fellow soldiers accused of murder in Fairbanks.

Lemarquis Mantez Ham, whose deposition is set for Wednesday, is in Mosul with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment.

Pvt. Freddy Walker, 21, Pfc. Christopher Cox, 19, and Lionel Wright, 21, are charged with second-degree murder and weapons misconduct in connection with the August shooting death of Alvin Wilkins Jr.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Oil tax sponsors score a victory

JUNEAU - Sponsors of two proposals to increase taxes against the oil industry scored a victory Friday when their bills passed out of a legislative committee, but key lawmakers indicated the measures may still be blocked down the line.

A bill by Democratic Reps. Harry Crawford and Eric Croft of Anchorage would tax companies that hold natural gas leases but fail to ship the gas to market. If a natural gas pipeline is built and the gas reserves are developed, a portion of the tax paid would be credited to the companies.

The second bill, co-written by Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Hollis French, both D-Anchorage, would scrap the state's oil production tax and replace it with a progressive tax where the oil industry would pay more when the price of oil is above $20 a barrel and less when it falls below $16.

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