Tow vessel reaches struggling ship in Bering Sea

Posted: Sunday, December 05, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The Coast Guard says a crippled cargo ship carrying half a million gallons of fuel is now under tow in the Bering Sea toward a safe harbor.

Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / U.s. Coast Guard
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / U.s. Coast Guard

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr says sometime early Monday morning the 738-foot Golden Seas is expected to reach Dutch Harbor, 275 miles away. The 20 crew members aboard are uninjured.

He said a commercial towing vessel hooked onto the cargo ship Saturday night after they rendezvoused a few hours earlier about 45 miles north of Atka Island. Atka Island is about 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The cargo ship, with a full load of canola seed, suffered engine troubles in strong winds and rough seas Friday that caused it to drift toward Atka Island, raising concerns it could run aground.

Since then limited power was restored, which eased the grounding fears.

The two vessels met about 45 miles north of Atka Island in the Bering Sea, Petty Officer David Mosley told The Associated Press.

Crews of the two vessels were trying to determine the best way to set up the tow in 20-foot seas.

"Safety is the paramount concern," Mosley said.

During the night, after the weather eased, it motored at about 3 to 4 mph back out to sea, reducing fears it would run aground, said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr.

Strong winds continued, with 16- to 20-foot seas, but calmer weather appeared to be moving in. A Coast Guard cutter was also on the way.

"Everything is going well," Warr said. "We have rescue crews remaining in place in Dutch Harbor. The weather predictions seem to be diminishing."

Plans called for the 18,000-horsepower Tor Viking II to tow the Golden Seas to port at Dutch Harbor by tonight or Monday morning. It was expected to undergo repairs there.

Responders said the vessel, which is managed by Allseas Marine, based in Athens, Greece, lost its turbo charger. That left it without enough power to overcome 29-foot seas and winds blowing at 45 mph.

Mosley said the Liberia-flagged ship is carrying more than 457,500 gallons of fuel oil, nearly 12,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil.

The ship is en route from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the United Arab Emirates, the Coast Guard said.

The Golden Seas is the latest example of the challenges involved in responding to incidents in the remote region, said Whit Sheard, an Oceana attorney who sits on the Aleutian Island Risk Assessment Advisory Panel, established with criminal settlement funds from the grounding of the Selendang Ayu six years ago.

The ship, the same size of the Golden Seas, ran aground Dec. 8, 2004, and broke apart on the north side of Unalaska Island, also in the Aleutians. About 66,000 tons of soybeans were lost.

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