ANCHORAGE - Marine salvagers could decide by today whether they will attempt to float and move the bow section of a freighter broken in two off the coast of Alaska.
Howard Hile of Gallagher Marine Services said the forward section of the bow of the 738-foot Selendang Ayu appeared to be buoyant.
The bow and stern - both holding thousand of gallons of heavy oil - remain on the west side of Unalaska Island, exposed to severe winter wind and waves directly off the treacherous Bering Sea. The vessel broke just about in half and both pieces have remained upright about 200 feet from shore near Skan Bay.
Hile said Tuesday moving the bow depends on the condition of the structure and its buoyancy.
"Whether that can be done or not will depend largely on the condition of the structure and the extent to which the individual cargo holds, ballast tanks and fuel tanks are flooded - how much buoyancy remains and the strength of the remaining structure," he said.
"If both of those things are satisfactory, it may be possible to remove the forward section," he said, so that oil and cargo could be more safely removed.
A Coast Guard helicopter on Tuesday was able to lower a survey crew to the bow and Hile said the decision would largely rest on what it found out.
Coast Guard officials believe a bow tank containing 176,472 gallons of bunker fuel remains intact. That's about one-third of the total on the freighter that was carrying soy beans from Tacoma, Wash., to China.
Hile warned that any plan could change as waves continue to pound the bow.
"Those situations can change with each passing day," he said.
An estimated 41,138 gallons of bunker fuel spilled when the ship broke and severed the No. 2 tank in the middle of the vessel.
The stern holds the breached No. 3 tank containing 104,448 gallons of bunker oil. Though water has entered the tank, most of the oil remains in the tank, said federal incident commander Ron Morris, a Coast Guard captain.
The stern also contains smaller tanks containing 56,875 and 29,501 gallons, plus marine diesel oil.
Crews flying over the area Tuesday saw no new oil leaking.
Federal wildlife officials reported the first marine mammal casualty.
One sea otter carcass and four dead birds were picked up by the salvage vessel Redeemer in Skan Bay. Two live birds were to be transported to Anchorage for rehabilitation. Three dead cormorants, one harlequin and one murrelet were picked up Monday.
The freighter belongs to Singapore-based IMC Group. The freighter lost power in its main engine Dec. 7. Tugs and Coast Guard cutters were unable to halt its drift to Unalaska Island and it foundered and broke Dec. 8.