Two weeks after the Arctic Hunter ran aground outside Unalaska, state officials are estimating that the boat has released up to 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the water.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is basing the estimate on reports from the crew of the crab boat. The crew reported that were carrying five loaded fuel tanks. Salvagers have inspected four of them. Some tanks only contained water, or traces of fuel.
Jade Gamble, with the ADEC, says some were empty, like one that should have contained 3,500 gallons of diesel.
“There’s a hole in the tank, and water – and they could hear water surging in with the waves,” Gamble said.
Gamble says any lost fuel probably spilled in the first few hours after the accident – and once it was released, the diesel dissipated quickly in rough seas.
“It is harder to see than like a crude oil or engine oil or something like that,” Gamble said. “It doesn’t make as thick a layer. And when it’s real silty and real windy and you have waves crashing, it is really hard to identify what’s a sheen and what might just be the surface of the water.”
While it is a pollutant, the diesel couldn’t form a slick like the kind that can coat and harm wildlife.
Gamble says the ADEC may never know exactly how much fuel was lost. But some was recovered: Resolve-Magone Marine Services separated 5,000 gallons of diesel out of a fuel-water mix they pumped out of the crab boat in the days after the accident.
Salvage crews will be looking for fuel in the remaining tank when they return to the wreck late this week. They’ll start trying to get the vessel off the rocks once fuel recovery is complete.