Pollution contained, removed from sunken tug in Gastineau Channel

Tug Challenger starboard side
This sonar scan of the tug Challenger shows the starboard side of the vessel as it rests at the bottom of Gastineau Channel near the west shoreline. (Image courtesy of NOAA ship Fairweather)
The U.S. Coast Guard says all of the known hazardous materials, oil and fuel have been removed from the sunken tugboat Challenger.

Emergency boom was initially placed around the wreck by the Coast Guard after it sank Saturday, but later swapped out with boom deployed by contractors Global Diving & Salvage and Southeast Alaska Lighterage.

Chief Petty Officer Hugo Gaytan of Sector Juneau’s Incident Management Division says the contractors examined the interior of the vessel, and removed any potential sources of pollution.

“We had a diver from Global go down and basically walk the decks, go through every room, go through all the spaces on the boat to identify any of the hazards,” Gaytan says.

Some of the items included a propane tank, a drum of corrosive material, paint cans and gallons of lube oil.

“One by one, they pulled them out,” he says.

Gaytan didn’t know exactly how much material was removed, but a report issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday estimated that there was 250 gallons of diesel fuel on board.

“They went around and looked at the tanks,” Gaytan says. “They cracked open the seal to see if any fuel would come out. If they did find fuel, they would close it back up and go get a hose with an attachment, and hook it up to the tanks to pump the fuel out.”

Coast Guard crews that initially responded to the sinking on Saturday reported a light sheen streaming away from the wreck, but none of the material was considered recoverable.

USCG containment boom is placed around the sunken tug Challenger on Sept. 13, 2015. (Photo courtesy C. Bressler/ Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
USCG containment boom is placed around the sunken tug Challenger on Sept. 13, 2015. (Photo courtesy C. Bressler/ Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
The Coast Guard has tapped the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for $50,000 to pay for the response and mitigate any potential environmental impact.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hydrographic survey vessel Fairweather happened to be making a Juneau port call for shore leave. It was on its way to Craig after recent surveys off Barrow.

Lt. Matt Forney, the ship’s operations officer, says the Coast Guard asked them to go out on Wednesday and scan the wreckage with sonar.

“What we will definitely be doing with that is putting out a publication Notice to Mariners as well as Local Notice to Mariners to just let everybody know that the chart isn’t necessarily accurate there anymore,” says Forney. “There’s a vessel sitting on the bottom.”

Images and data from the scans were passed on to the Coast Guard as part of their investigation.

Forney says the Challenger is resting in about 28 feet of water on the western side of the channel across from downtown Juneau’s Harris and Aurora boat harbors. The bottom slopes gently along that side of the channel before it drops off sharply toward the center.

This sounding plot of the tug Challenger shows its current location near the west shoreline of Gastineau Channel. (Image courtesy of NOAA ship Fairweather)
This sounding plot of the tug Challenger shows its current location near the west shoreline of Gastineau Channel. (Image courtesy of NOAA ship Fairweather)
The tug’s mast occasionally appears above the water during low tide, and the wreck has been marked with a temporary buoy and containment boom.

The Coast Guard says they were able to contact the current owner of the Challenger. He has been directed to remove the vessel from tidelands and submerged lands, but it’s unclear if and when that will occur.

Challenger bow to aft
This sonar scan of the tug Challenger shows a bow-to-aft view of the vessel as it rests at the bottom of Gastineau Channel near the west shoreline. (Image courtesy of NOAA ship Fairweather)

Matt Miller

Morning Host & Local News Reporter, KTOO

I’m up early every weekday morning pulling together all the news and information you need to start your day. I find the stories unique to Juneau or Southeast Alaska that may linger or become food-for-thought at the end of your day. What information do you need from me to give your day some context?

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications