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Rescuers’ helicopter crashes in Bering Sea

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A Coast Guard helicopter crashed into the Bering Sea with 10 people aboard while conducting a rescue Wednesday after a powerless bulk freighter carrying 440,000 gallons of fuel ran aground on an island in southwestern Alaska and broke in two.

The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley picked up four of the 10 people. Six were unaccounted for, the Coast Guard said.

The four were taken to Dutch Harbor on the island for medical treatment.

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer and the master of the vessel remained on board the Selendang Ayu, a 738-foot-long freighter loaded with soybeans and 440,000 gallons of fuel, the Coast Guard said.

The ship broke apart when it ran aground on Unalaska Island, home to sensitive wildlife habitat and fisheries in the Aleutian chain, the Coast Guard said.

The nearly 40,000-ton vessel has been adrift in the Bering Sea since Tuesday, coming within two miles of running aground on Bogoslof Island and then heading toward Unalaska Island, home of sea lion rookeries and crab fisheries.

The crew of the Selendang Ayu dropped one anchor when it reached shallow water, but it was lost in rough seas after just a half-hour.

The crew later dropped its other anchor, and for a while held it less than a mile from shore, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Olson, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, said.

Tugboat crews had worked into the night to secure lines to the freighter, Olson said.

Earlier attempts by Coast Guard cutters and tugboats to halt the freighter using towlines proved futile, as the lines broke in the 25-foot swells and 30-knot winds.

Most of the crew had been evacuated from the freighter by Coast Guard helicopter.

Those remaining on board were doing what they could to save the ship, Olson said.

The Malaysia-flagged freighter’s main engine broke down for unknown reasons on Tuesday.

The freighter was carrying soybeans on a trans-Pacific voyage, reportedly to Japan.

The Coast Guard said it was bringing oil containment equipment to Unalaska Island’s Dutch Harbor.

The freighter’s 440,000 gallons of heavy bunker oil had been transferred to inboard tanks and the fuel heaters were turned off to thicken the fuel, so in the event of a spill it would not disperse, Petty Officer Thomas McKenzie said.

Unalaska Island is about 800 air miles southwest of Anchorage.

The Selendang Ayu is a single-deck bulk carrier built in China in 1998.

It is owned by IMC Transworld, a subsidiary of Singapore-based IMC Group.


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