Local News

Unrelated fire, sinking hit harbor over weekend

SITKA, ALASKA
Crews worked Monday afternoon to raise the 40-foot motor vessel Miller, which sank in its stall sometime overnight Friday into Saturday. No one was on board.

“Apparently about 3 o’clock in the morning on Saturday morning, someone noticed it had sunk,” said Ron Pratt, maintenance supervisor for the Sitka Harbor Department. “By 7 o’clock the staff that was on duty got the call that it had sunk. Then they tried to contact the owner.”

Pratt says the owner, a Tomas Puerta, was reportedly in Hoonah Sound doing some work aboard another vessel. A cell phone for Puerta was not working, and the Harbor Department reached someone who said they would run up to Hoonah Sound and alert him.

Pratt says on Sunday a light sheen appeared in the water, and that oil booms have been placed around the vessel. He didn’t know the exact amount of fuel on board.

“People who’ve been around the boat said it was pretty dry,” Pratt said. “Probably just a little bit of fuel in it for a diesel stove or something. There’s not much coming up. Every now and then you might get a little bubble that comes up and instantly turns into a little sheen. We’re not getting raw droplets or raw fuel puddling up on the surface.”

A diver was working with the Miller on Monday afternoon to position inflatable bags and attempt to raise it. Pratt says that’s no small task, as the Miller is a heavy boat. The 52-year-old, 40-foot vessel is made of wood.

“Another option would be, if they can’t get the bags to lift it, would be to cut it loose and let it sit on the bottom,” he said. “Then they can actually drag it out, because it’ll slide along on the bottom, just like a toboggan will on a snowy hill.”

Pratt says the floor of the harbor is a fine, silty mud.

“As long as the structure of the boat’s strong enough you can start pulling real slow and just start building up your speed and it will rise,” he said. “They self-right, and they’ll just come shooting out of the water like Red October. You can do it that way and then have a boat come alongside and throw pumps in it while you’re towing it.”

The sinking of the Miller came the same night as a small fire that damaged a cabin aboard the Sea Lion, an 86-foot wooden boat also moored in Eliason Harbor. Sitka fire Chief Dave Miller says the boat’s lone male occupant left his cabin to shower, and noticed the fire when he returned. Authorities are still investigating what caused the fire. There were no injuries.
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