The following is the text of a press release issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology:
(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) kept close watch today after a 794-foot cargo ship went aground in the Gulf Islands, just northwest of Washington’s San Juan Islands. No spill was reported. The bulk carrier Hebei Lion dragged anchor in winds that reached 74 miles per hour overnight and was blown onto a rocky reef off Mayne Island at Plumper Sound in the Strait of Georgia. A tug towed the vessel off the reef at mid-Morning.
Ecology was notified by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, and monitored the incident because it posed a significant risk of a large black oil spill.
â€œDamage to fuel tanks on a cargo ship that size could have oiled the islands on both sides of the border,â€ said Dale Jensen, manager of Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program. â€œA major spill also could have forced a closure to vessel traffic. Given the profound environmental and economic risks we’re relieved and pleased at the outcome. We mobilized staff and were prepared to deploy response systems as needed.â€
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, who represents the 40th District, including his San Juan Island home, said, â€œThis incident once again highlights the importance of having a strong spill prevention and response system in place, not only for Puget Sound but also for large transboundary spills that can have potentially devastating effects on our environment and economy.â€
Jensen added that winter storms can place ships in jeopardy, increasing the risk to the Northwest’s inland and coastal waters. He urged mariners to use extra vigilance during the high winds and rough water produced by winter storms. The Neah Bay emergency response tug is an asset the state had in place during last night’s storm in case a ship ran into trouble on the outer coast or in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Vessel safety is an essential part of Ecology’s focus on spill prevention. A cargo ship the size of the Hebei Lion can carry in excess of 2 million gallons of heavy black oil as fuel.
Ecology’s spill prevention, preparedness and response programs are part of the department’s efforts to reduce toxic threats and to restore Puget Sound.