A visible fuel sheen was observed in Neva Strait north of Whitestone Narrows at 8:00 a.m.
on March 23. At that time, the sheen extended as to St. John the Baptist Bay and to Salisbury Sound. On Thursday, ribbons of sheen were seen to the south, in Krestof Sound and Olga Strait. (ADF&G photo)

Salvage crews on Thursday afternoon (3-24-22) successfully stemmed the flow of diesel fuel from a grounded tugboat 15 miles north of Sitka, but a visible sheen on the surface of the water continues to spread.

Information released by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Thursday evening indicated that all remaining sources of the leaking fuel had been identified and sealed, and no more fuel was escaping.

The 83-foot Western Mariner ran aground early Monday morning (3-21-22). The tug was towing an Alaska Marine Lines freight barge when the two vessels collided after a steering failure, and the Western Mariner was pushed onto the beach. The barge, the Chichagof Provider, was brought back to Sitka earlier this week, but the tugboat remains grounded.

The amount of spilled diesel is still unknown, but the Western Mariner was carrying an estimated 45,000 gallons of fuel when the accident occurred. Response crews deployed containment boom in the area, and began skimming the water on Monday. Over the last four days, they skimmed at least 1,200 gallons of oily water, and pumped nearly 5,000 gallons of diesel and water from the tug’s engine room. 

Skimming efforts were put on hold early Tuesday due to poor weather conditions. Conditions were so bad that a small, private vessel responding capsized on its way back to Sitka on Tuesday. All four aboard the boat were rescued.  

Commercial herring fishery to be relocated

Local concern over the situation is growing, as the Western Mariner is aground about five miles north of Krestof Sound, an area where Pacific herring are known to spawn in the spring. Shortly after the spill, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported observing sheen from the site of the grounding, north through Neva Strait to Salisbury Sound. On Thursday morning, biologists aboard an ADF&G aerial survey observed sheen stretching south in Krestof Sound to Double Island, and in Olga Strait. They did not observe any sheen in Hayward Strait, where numerous schools of herring were seen moving toward Promisla and Eastern bays. Nevertheless, ADF&G reports that it has “transitioned the commercial herring fishery away from Hayward Strait to avoid potential impacts from oil.”

An Alaska Department of Fish & Game aerial survey Thursday morning (3-24-22) photographed ribbons of diesel sheen extending southward into Krestof Sound, and toward the Magoun Islands and Hayward Strait. Although some of the sheen had dissipated by afternoon, managers have decided to look elsewhere to open the commercial seine fishery for herring. (ADF&G Photo)

The commercial sac roe herring fishery remains on two-hour notice. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducted five test sets Thursday, averaging between 9 and 11 percent mature roe, and weighing on average between 117 and 134 grams.

The DEC plans to conduct environmental shoreline assessments over the weekend to determine the extent of any beach contamination.

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and may be updated.