Small Fuel Barge Adrift In Beaufort Sea

A small, unmanned fuel barge is adrift in the Beaufort Sea and may be heading toward Prudhoe Bay after its tow line snapped in a storm on Monday.

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The 134-foot barge has 950 gallons of diesel fuel on board. It’s owned by a Canadian company, and was in Canadian waters when it broke loose from its tugboat.

Now, Coast Guard response commander Shawn Decker estimates the barge is drifting west in ice-free water at a speed of three to four miles per hour. At that rate, he says it could reach Prudhoe Bay sometime late Friday – and there aren’t any vessels nearby that could try to stop it.

Decker says it’s not guaranteed the barge will run aground in Prudhoe Bay. It’s drifting between the Arctic coastline, and winter sea ice advancing from the north.

The Coast Guard wasn’t able to visually locate the barge today, so they don’t know for sure where it’s drifting, or how fast. Decker says a Coast Guard aircraft will find the vessel again Friday and drop a tracking device onto its deck.