Freighter to remain in pieces off Alaska's coast; salvage prospects to be assessed after winter

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2004

ANCHORAGE - A Malaysian freighter that lost power and broke in half will stay off Alaska's coast for now, with efforts focused on removing oil from the stern section only, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.

The bow and stern sections of the 738-foot Selendang Ayu remain grounded off the west side of Unalaska Island in the Aleutian chain, where they are taking a beating from the Bering Sea.

When the ship grounded last week, it contained an estimated 424,000 gallons of heavy oil and some marine diesel fuel.

After getting a closer look Wednesday at the bow and stern, salvagers determined it is not possible now to remove 176,473 gallons of heavy oil from the No. 1 fuel tank in the bow. That section of the ship is continuing to sink and settle on the bottom.

Salvagers determined that the No. 1 fuel tank has some water in it. Plans call for plugging the tank openings. The No. 1 fuel tank is underwater and not easily accessible. The narrow decking on the bow also makes fuel removal very risky, officials said.

Salvage prospects will be reassessed after winter. Between now and then, the Coast Guard expects the freighter to take a beating from Bering Sea storms.

Smit America, a Houston-based salvage company, was selected Wednesday to undertake operations to remove 103,800 gallons of heavy oil and 18,300 gallons of marine diesel from the stern.

Unloading the stern oil is expected to take perhaps a month, with startup around Jan. 1. Officials said the operation will require two helicopters, one to bring equipment and people to the freighter and the other to lift large containers, perhaps with 2,000 gallons of oil each, from the ship.

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