Fuel Barge Still Adrift In Beaufort Sea

An unmanned fuel barge adrift in the Beaufort Sea hasn’t run aground yet.

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A Coast Guard aircraft from Air Station Kodiak got a visual on the small Canadian barge Friday. Commander Shawn Decker says it’s about 20 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, floating west at three miles per hour.

“Right now, all of our computer drift models and after we actually saw it today, we are confident that it’s going to continue drifting past Prudhoe Bay, and it’s going to remain in open water for at least the next 12-24 hours,” Decker said.

The barge broke loose from its tugboat in a storm at sea on Monday. That tug has since returned to an iced-in port in Canada’s Northwest Territory.

And right now, there any aren’t any other vessels nearby to help get the barge under control. Decker says the Coast Guard is waiting to see whether it goes aground or gets stuck in winter sea ice before planning further response.

He says the vessel may not spill its diesel fuel cargo – about 950 gallons of it – even if it does hit the coast:

“That part of the shoreline up there along the North Slope is fairly flat and it’s mostly gravel … so there’s not a lot of big jagged cliffs and rocks and things like that that could potentially puncture the fuel tanks,” Decker said.

Still, he says any fuel barge that’s out of control poses a threat – so they’re notifying North Slope Borough communities of the situation. He says they’re working with the Canadian Coast Guard and the vessel’s owner, a large Canadian barging company, to keep an eye on the barge through the weekend.