Unalaska installs emergency mooring buoy

When cargo ships run into trouble along the Great Circle shipping route, they often end up in Unalaska. There are plenty of support services in town, but there’s only so much dock space. And with Unalaska’s rough weather, simply dropping anchor isn’t secure enough.

That’s why Unalaska has deployed a new emergency mooring buoy in Broad Bay. Mayor Shirley Marquardt says the system is valued at $10.2 million. But it was almost entirely funded with grants and donations of hardware and professional services.

“You know, it took two years to get every one of these pieces together,” Marquardt says. “[We were] trying to do it with as little city money as possible, because the whole idea of this buoy is to protect us from the disabled and distressed vessels that get brought to us. We become their caretaker, and it kind of puts us at risk.”

That was the case with the Golden Seas, a cargo ship that went adrift near Adak in 2010. It was carrying 500,000 pounds of oil and fuel and posed a major spill risk to Unalaska because it was too large to tie up in town. So the 700-foot vessel sat anchored in Broad Bay while its engine was fixed, with a tugboat on hand to monitor it.

Even if it had been able to dock in Unalaska, it might have been a problem. City manager Chris Hladick says the unexpected arrival of a large shipping vessel can disrupt the port’s tight schedule.

“Maybe it’s a critical time of year. They take up dock space, and then you have a huge impact to our economic engine which is the port,” Hladick says.

Hladick says the city wanted a dedicated space for ships to go during emergencies.

“We came up with the idea of a mooring buoy away from the docks that you could put the ship on,” says Hladick. “Then they could order their parts, make their repairs, and then get under way and get out of here.”

Marquardt and Hladick say the biggest donor to the mooring system was Shell Oil. Shell provided three surplus anchors to hold the buoy in place, and had their contractors ship them from Louisiana for free.

Shell’s icebreaker class anchor handler, the Aiviq, stopped in Unalaska on its way out of the Beaufort Sea after the Arctic drilling season ended. The crew spent two days helping the city install the system at no cost. And in the future, the Coast Guard will maintain it for free using their buoy tenders.

The mooring buoy compliments Unalaska’s emergency towing kit, which was developed about five years ago with the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment team.

John Brown, a coordinator from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, says the towing system can be used to bring broken-down vessels to the new buoy. He says the risk assessment group will test it out when they gather in Unalaska for their annual towing drill next fall.

Recent headlines

  • dollar bill money macro

    Per diems driving special session costs

    Lawmakers who represent areas outside Juneau receive $295 for each day of the special session. Juneau lawmakers receive $221.25 per day.
  • Caroline Hoover proudly pins an Alaska Territorial Guard medal on the front of her father's parka during an official discharge ceremony held Oct. 17 in Kipnuk, Alaska. David Martin is one of three surviving members of the Alaska Territorial Guard's Kipnuk unit. A total of 59 residents of Kipnuk, who volunteered to defend Alaska in the event of a Japanese invasion during World War II, were recognized during the ceremony. Kipnuk residents who served with the Alaska Territorial Guard from 1942-1947 were members of a U.S. Army component organized in response to attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Jerry Walton, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs cultural resource manager and native liaison/public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

    16 Alaska Territorial Guard vets to be honored in Anchorage

    Sixteen veterans of the Alaska Territorial Guard will be honored at a discharge ceremony today. Four of them are from Western Alaska.
  • Don Andrew Roguska looks out from an upstairs window of an historic Juneau house he bought in 2016 to restore. Zoning regulations have prevented him from rebuilding in the same style. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

    Juneau mulls relaxing zoning rules for historic houses

    The historic houses in Juneau and Douglas were predominately built by miners and fishermen long before today's zoning was put into place. That's prevented homeowners from restoring or rebuilding homes in these neighborhoods without running into conflict with the city's zoning laws -- a temporary fix may be on the way.
  • Young joins Afghanistan war skeptics in Congress

    Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young wants to know why Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan. He has co-sponsored a bill that would end funding for the war in a year, unless the president and Congress affirm the need for it.
X