A Japanese freighter grounded just off-shore from this Aleutian port was listing dangerously to one side late Sunday and Coast Guard officials said they feared it might tip over in stormy seas.
“The weather has gotten worse and there’s an opportunity here for things to go bad,” Coast Guard spokesman Chris Haley said.
About 153,000 gallons of heavy fuel remained on board the Kuroshima, which was being pounded by the 70-mph winds and 15-foot seas of a Bering Sea storm.
If the 368-foot freighter tipped over, it would increase chances of a bigger fuel spill and raised the possibility that the vessel might break up, Haley said.
“If it rolls over far enough, you could have oil that comes out of the vents that are part of the piping system on board the ship.
“Obviously a ship is not designed to be on its side. The stability is decreased,” Haley said. Three lines now anchor the vessel to shore but cannot keep the freighter from rotating, he said.
About 12,000 gallons of bunker oil have spilled since the Kuroshima ran aground last Wednesday in a storm. Two members of the crew were killed when a large wave hit the ship as it grounded. Eighteen people were rescued.
Three contractors remained on board the vessel late Sunday to prepare for unloading the oil.
A helicopter was standing by to rescue those workers if the freighter tipped over, Haley said.
Authorities overseeing the spill response were concerned that, if the ship listed too far to one side, power to the piping system would be lost.
“Loss of heat would mean the bunker oil would congeal. It would become extremely difficult to pump it out, if not impossible,” said Brad Hahn, on-scene coordinator with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Cleanup crews continued to pick up the oily sludge that has washed ashore on Summers Beach and into Summers Bay Lake, a popular salmon fishing spot. The oil has congealed into tar-like patties in the cold.
The oil was too thick to be sucked up by pumps and was being picked up by shovels, backhoes, rakes and by hand, Hahn said.
About 40 workers were combing an area 700 yards long and 15-feet wide along the beach and 1-1/2 miles of shoreline around the lake, scooping up the oily goo.
They worked despite biting winds and snow squalls.
“They’re working under real adverse conditions,” Hahn said.