Local News

Stranded troller refloated in week-long salvage effort

Salvagers rigged a 2,400-foot long "Blue Steel" tow line to the Mirage, and pulled her free with the tug Wendy O. (Global Diving photo/Kerry Walsh)

Salvagers rigged a 2,400-foot long “Blue Steel” tow line to the Mirage, and pulled her free with the tug Wendy O. (Global Diving photo/Kerry Walsh)

A little more than a week after running aground on a stormy beach in Sitka Sound, the Mirage has been refloated.

The 52-foot steel-hull troller went ashore in surf and heavy seas last Sunday evening on Low Island, a windswept mound of rock off the coast of Kruzof Island, about 8 miles west of Sitka.

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Michael Wortman, supervisor of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Sitka, says the Mirage was dragged off the island and refloated at about 1 PM Monday afternoon.

The next step, says Wortman, is to keep the Mirage floating.

“They had divers do an assessment of the vessel underneath, and get on board and make sure it’s not taking on water. The vessel is now transiting to Sitka to be further evaluated.”

See our story on the grounding of the Mirage here.

Throughout last week, and over the weekend, the marine salvage company Global Diving worked to remove fuel, fishing gear, and rigging from the stranded vessel, in order to lighten it. In all, 1600 gallons of diesel were pumped into plastic tanks and flown in sling loads by helicopter to the Sitka airport, as were the Mirage’s trolling poles, anchors, and 40 skates of longline gear.

Kerry Walsh, project manager for Global Diving and Salvage, says the Mirage was not in a very good spot.

“It was a horrible spot, to be honest with you. Very shoaly, influenced by tidal currents, and open to the sea. It’s a windswept, barren, piece of lava rock out there.”

Salvagers plugged and epoxied all the through-hull openings in Mirage, and then flooded her bilges with seawater to keep the vessel stable during high tides. Nevertheless, the Mirage moved onshore 90 feet over the course of the week.

Dewatering pumps were staged onboard the Mirage, in preparation for towing her off Low Island on Sunday. The landing craft Seamount and the tugboat Wendy O encountered 8-to-12-foot swells in Sitka Sound.

A helicopter had lifted a 12-inch “Blue Steel” tow line previously to Low Island. When crews were ready to carry the tow out to the tug boat, Walsh says they ran into problems with the “messenger line,” the lightweight line passed between vessels that carries the heavier line.

“The breaking waves were causing a sideways motion with the water, and it washed the big tow line underneath the bow of the Mirage, and it kind of wedged it between the rock and the keel of the boat. And when it wedged, it also put a surge on the messenger line, and it parted just offshore. But we were able to recover all that line and get it back up on high ground, and go back out this morning.”

On Monday morning (4-28-14), with somewhat lighter winds and seas, the helicopter was able to hoist the tow line out to the tug, and the Wendy O freed the Mirage on the rising tide.

Michael Wortman, with the Coast Guard, credits the Mirage’s owner for taking responsibility for the salvage, and excellent work by Global Salvage for a successful operation.

And when that’s not the case, Wortman says the Guard can take measures of its own to salvage vessels.

“We have funds, we have agreements with companies in the area, and we can hire them to do the same thing Global did, essentially.”

Wortman says the cause of the grounding remains under investigation, and he will not release the results until the case is officially closed.

Kerry Walsh, with Global Diving, says a life raft and small freezer came off the Mirage as she was being pulled off Low Island. He went out in the helicopter and recovered both. “There’s no sign at all that the Mirage was ever out there,” he said.


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