Drifting Barge Heading for Arctic Sea Ice

A Coast Guard aircraft conducted a flyover of the drifting barge this past weekend. (Courtesy: USCG Air Station Kodiak)
A Coast Guard aircraft conducted a flyover of the drifting barge this past weekend. (Courtesy: USCG Air Station Kodiak)

A small fuel barge is drifting toward Arctic sea ice, north of Prudhoe Bay – and the Coast Guard says it’ll probably be stuck there until next summer.

The 134-foot unmanned barge broke off from its tugboat in a storm last week. Since then, Coast Guard commander Shawn Decker says it has been drifting away from Alaska’s shoreline.

At this rate, he says it’s likely the barge will get trapped in sea ice to the north. In that case, the Coast Guard would have to wait to remove it until the ice thawed next June.

The Canadian company that owns the barge hasn’t been able to find a nearby vessel that’s free from winter ice and can help respond right now. But Decker says they might try to reach the vessel in the coming months to offload some of its cargo: about 950 gallons of diesel fuel.

If the barge does end up in ice, Decker says the Coast Guard will track it through the winter to make sure it doesn’t break loose or begin to leak fuel. But he’s not too worried – he says the vessel owner keeps similar barges in ice all winter, and is confident this one would stay put.