Five crewmen are safe after an Air Station Sitka helicopter hoisted them from a stranded tug Wednesday, Mar. 2. The 100-foot Ocean Eagle was sailing through Sumner Strait, 80 miles southeast of Sitka, with a barge in tow when it ran aground on Mariposa Reef.
The Coast Guard response center in Juneau got a call from the Ocean Eagle at around 7:15 p.m. The tug was taking on water in the vessel’s engine room.
Lt. Ray Jamros and his helicopter crew were in Juneau Wednesday evening when the call came in. They had just medevaced an elderly woman from Haines.
“So we had gotten her to Juneau and we were planning on staying put in Juneau for the night because of the weather and then we got the call,” Jamros explained.
Southeast has been experiencing severe winter weather since late Sunday. Jamros and his crew left Juneau around 10:30 Wednesday night in difficult flying conditions.
“Most of the way down it was blowing snow,” Jamros said. “We couldn’t see much at all. It was essentially white-out conditions with turbulence the whole way down.”
Jamros said usually they’ll turn off the outside lights on the helicopter to improve visibility during a white-out.
Once they arrived at the stricken tug and barge, visibility improved.
Jamros said it was obvious the tug had taken on water, but the Ocean Eagle’s five-man crew had moved to safety.
“They had put on survival suits, gotten onto the barge,” explained Jamros. “They found one of the container boxes on there that they were able to open up and take shelter in from the wind and the snow and the seas and they were all ready to go when we got there.”
The crewmen were hoisted aboard the helicopter for the return flight to Sitka. Again, Jamros said the weather proved uncooperative.
“The whole way back to Sitka was also white-out conditions until we got back into Sitka Sound, we could see the lights of the town here,” said Jamros.
The status of the Ocean Eagle remains uncertain. In most vessel groundings, the Coast Guard returns the next day to do a flyover and look for oil or other fuel spills, but Jamros said continued bad weather on Thursday prevented a flight back to Sumner Strait.
According to a Coast Guard press release, there is an estimated 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel between the tug and barge.
The Ocean Eagle and barge refloated and drifted to Alvin Cove at approximately 3 a.m. Thursday morning (3-2-17).
The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty arrived on scene at 7:30 a.m. with pollution response equipment. The Coast Guard Cutter Maple arrived shortly thereafter. Both cutters remain on scene looking for signs of pollution and verifying nearby aids to navigation.
Commercial tugs contracted by the Ocean Eagle’s owner are also now on scene to dewater, effect repairs and mitigate potential pollution.