Shipwrecks Take Long Path To Cleanup

Photo by Jennifer Shockley.
Photo by Jennifer Shockley.

An abandoned crab vessel will finally be pulled off the beach in Unalaska, more than seven months after it ran aground. But, the Arctic Hunter isn’t the only wreck that’s been waiting on a cleanup.

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When the Arctic Hunter hit the rocks, it was four a.m. the morning after Halloween. Hardly anyone was there to see it — except for a few cameras, from the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch.”

A recent episode showed the Arctic Hunter’s accident:

Narrator: “The distress calls echoes across the fleet. And the closest boat capable of a rescue–“

Elliott Neese: “Uh, we need to get a life sling ready to pull guys out of the water.”

Narrator: “–is Captain Elliott Neese, of the 107-foot Saga.”

Neese and his crew helped evacuate the stranded fishermen on TV. But we don’t see what happened to their vessel. Until recently, the answer was, “nothing.”

But at the end of May, a salvage company signed a contract to remove what’s left of the Arctic Hunter. Dan Magone is with Resolve Magone Marine Services.

Magone: “Just a matter of having the divers go down and torch holes in it to rig cables to it, so we can pull it out of there.”

Once they drag the wreck away, Magone says his crew will clean up boat debris that’s been washing up on Unalaska’s beaches. It’s been a big concern for locals.

But Magone says you can’t blame the whole mess on just one vessel.

Magone: “If there’s urethane foam and fiberglass, and you know, flotsam and jetsam, it’s not necessarily from the Arctic Hunter.”

It could be from the Chaos — another fishing boat that ran aground near Unalaska last fall, and is still sitting on the beach today.

Magone says he’s removed a lot of shipwrecks in southwest Alaska over the years.

Magone: “You know, I’ve done virtually all of them out here. And I’ve not seen any of them get delayed as long as these two, considering that they both had adequate insurance.”

It turns out there are a lot of reasons for the delay. Insurance is one of them.

When a fishing vessel sinks or runs aground, the insurance company pays for the cleanup. And they also hire the crew that’s going to do it.

It can get complicated if there’s more than one insurance company involved, though. Magone says two insurers had to look over the Arctic Hunter case before they were ready to take bids from salvage crews.

There were also multiple insurers for the Chaos. Jack McFarland was hired to help them coordinate the salvage contract. He says they decided pretty early on to use Magone’s shop in Unalaska.

But after that, McFarland says things stalled out.

McFarland: “Obviously the salver was pretty busy on many other projects, and we eliminated the pollution immediately from the vessel.”

That’s mandated by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. But once the oil and fuel is removed, the threat to the environment goes way down. If the responsible parties keep in touch with the state, they can take their time getting the rest of the wreck cleaned up.

Both vessels took a beating over the winter — the Arctic Hunter and the Chaos, which is the case Jack McFarland’s been working on.

McFarland: “And in a way, it being broken apart might be a little easier at this stage than not, because the risk of assets initially was a concern. The approach is pretty rocky and dangerous. The weather would have to be very stable.”

It would have been a tough job no matter what, and that translates to higher costs. McFarland says that the insurance company probably did save some money by waiting to move the Chaos off the beach.

McFarland: “It wasn’t done on purpose. It just happened to be the way this one shook out.”

It hasn’t fully shaken out yet. There’s still no deal in place to get the Chaos cleaned up. But Dan Magone says that won’t matter to his salvage company.

When they start working on the Arctic Hunter wreck later this month, they’ll have to pick up all the debris they find to meet the state’s standards for clean beaches — regardless of which vessel it came from.