Observer staff report
LEADBETTER POINT — A dramatic helicopter rescue from a foundering crab boat before dawn last Friday has turned into a complicated cleanup project on the remote sands of Leadbetter Point.
At about 2:39 a.m. Friday, the Coast Guard received a mayday call from the 61-foot fishing vessel Genesis A after it ran aground on a sand bar.
The Coast Guard launched a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Astoria and a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Station Grays Harbor. A Coast Guard crew from Station Cape Disappointment also responded to the beach area near the grounding.
At 3:37 a.m., the helicopter crew hoisted the four crew members and their dog on board, as their boat bounced in the breakers. The helicopter brought them to Sector Columbia River. No medical attention was needed.
Coast Guard Capt. Bruce Jones said fatigue is a leading cause of commercial fishing casualties, and it played a role in the grounding of the Genesis A and another vessel near Cape Arago in Oregon. The exact cause of the Leadbetter grounding is still under investigation. The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency on this investigation, with the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) assisting.
Ecology, U.S. Coast Guard and Ballard Diving and Salvage worked during low tide Friday night to pump as much fuel as possible off the boat, and returned Saturday.
“All of the recoverable oil was removed from the Genesis A, which concluded on Saturday evening Jan. 25. An estimated 600 to 750 gallons was removed, but we are still waiting for confirmation of our recovery numbers and the amount of the oil spill,” Linda Kent, Ecology’s Olympic and Southwest Regions communications manager, said Monday.
The high-energy surf and other weather conditions caused the diesel that did spill to be quickly dissipated, Kent said.
“We saw sheen about 200 yards south of the vessel and about 400 yards to the north,” she said. “It’s important to note that small amounts of oil can cause extremely large areas of sheen. Responders inspected from the shore side inside Willapa Bay and after a thorough inspection did not see any oil.”
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed a mile-long section of the beach starting about 6.3 miles north of the Oysterville Road approach to keep weekend razor clam diggers away from the beached crab boat.
Kent said the threat of any further oil spill was minimized due to actions taken by the U.S. Coast Guard, Ecology and Ballard Diving and Salvage and Hill and Son Excavating Inc. over the weekend. Light sheen was observed on the beach Monday, but no sheen was observed on the beach Tuesday by the salvage contractor.
Crab not sold
The vessel owner was on scene Friday assisting responders and also attempting to recover a load of crab in the vessel’s fish hold. The vessel owner and his insurance company plan to salvage the Genesis A by breaking it up and removing it from the beach. They are hoping to have the vessel removed by Friday, Feb. 1.
Agency responders continue to actively monitor the Genesis A salvage operation.
Ecology observed vessel captain had the crab catch removed. Under the guidance of WDFW officials, the catch was not sold to the market.
“This was a very well-coordinated unified command and response, and responders did a good job meeting all response objectives,” Kent commented.
She closed by stressing that all oil spills cause environmental damage, regardless of size. Oil is toxic to the environment and the damage starts as soon as the oil hits water. A single quart of oil has the potential to foul more than 100,000 gallons of water.
Oil spills can be reported to 800-OILS-911.