Pollution cleanup from sunken Alaska ship costing millions

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Costs to contain pollution from a ship that sank near Kodiak Island more than 30 years ago have reached about $3 million in the weeks since authorities were notified of an oily sheen from the wreckage, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Alaska’s Spill Prevention and Response Division has been coordinating divers and boom deployment, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation earlier this week reported about 9,730 gallons of oily water had been recovered. The wreckage is in Womens Bay, which the department says provides critical habitat for a number of species.

The department said that as of last Thursday, there had been no reports of oiled wildlife or impacts to the shoreline.

A passerby noticed an oily sheen on the water’s surface Aug. 3, CoastAlaska reported. Divers traced the leaks from the sunken Saint Patrick to pinholes in the hull, where the heads of rivets had corroded away over the decades, according to state officials.

“We’re making really good progress on removing fuels and this oily water from the vessel so that we can make sure that it doesn’t continue sheening,” said Jade Gamble, who has been leading the on-scene response and is with the Department of Environmental Conservation. “And we intend to get this vessel as clean as possible so that we don’t have to come back.”

It’s not clear how the Saint Patrick sank. Officials know it went down some time in 1989 after being moored nearby for several years.

In 1981, nine people died after abandoning the Saint Patrick in a panic after the batteries had become waterlogged. There was concern among the crew that they could explode, which was an unfounded concern, but many of the crew members had little experience on the water, CoastAlaska reported.

Just two of the crew’s 11 members survived after reaching nearby Marmot Island. The ship rolled in the rough seas at the time but never foundered. Litigation in the case ensued.

The U.S. Coast Guard is using federal cleanup funds in efforts to contain any pollution from the ship.

Efforts to track down those who could be held liable to help with the costs have been fruitless, Gamble said, with many related businesses having closed since the ’80s.

“There’s not been a responsible party identified as of yet,” she said.