Tug breaches, spills fuel after striking moored barge in Seattle

Island Wind

The tugboat Island Wind struck a moored deck barge at a Seattle terminal, breaching the tug’s hull above the waterline and causing a diesel spill in the Duwamish Waterway.

The incident occurred at about 0900 on Feb. 28 alongside the Island Tug & Barge facility across from Harbor Island. The company owns both vessels involved, the 2,200-hp Island Wind and the 280-foot deck barge ITB-280.

Four people were aboard the tugboat at the time and nobody was hurt. The tug was carrying 1,700 gallons of diesel and authorities estimate 1,340 gallons spilled. Response teams recovered nearly all of the fuel, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident and declined to comment on a possible cause. Erik Ellefsen, Island Tug & Barge’s general manager, described it as an “unfortunate accident.”

“He just got caught in the cross-current and the boat hit awkwardly on the barge,” Ellefsen said in a phone interview, referring to the tug captain who has worked for the company for more than 20 years. “It hit it right in the perfect spot (for a breach).”

Island Wind had dropped off ITB-280, carrying a load of scrap metal, at the company’s pier on the morning of the accident. The tug crew was upriver when they turned around to retrieve running lights left on the barge. The tug struck the moored barge’s port stern corner as it came alongside.

The accident punctured the tug’s port-side hull and breached its No. 2 port fuel tank. Crew moved the tug to the company’s adjacent dock and began deploying boom around the vessel.

“It was above the waterline (where) it hit the barge, and when the crew tied up it took on just enough water that when they started ballasting … it listed the boat over and that is what caused the actual spill,” Ellefsen said.

“It was already tied up, and that is why they were able to get the boom up so fast, they could see what was about to go down,” he continued.

Global Diving & Salvage was working nearby on an unrelated project when the incident occurred. The company sent a team to the Island Tug & Barge pier to assist with spill response.

During the next three days, salvage teams pumped about 360 gallons of diesel from the tugboat’s ruptured tank and placed sorbents around the vessel. Those efforts paid off: The state estimates only 25 gallons out of 1,340 gallons that spilled were not recovered.

Calm weather at the time, ebb tide conditions in the Duwamish Waterway and the nearby barge serving as a natural barrier combined to control the spread of fuel, said Larry Altose, a spokesman for the state Department of Ecology. The salvage crew’s close proximity and fast response by Island Tug & Barge crews also helped.

“Island and their contractor were in position to get boom around the incident right away,” Altose said. “As soon as it happened, they got the boom around it … and were very aggressive in their recovery efforts.”

“One of our key messages in spill response is the importance of containment, not to mention controlling the source,” he added.

Ellefsen said the company drills for this type of situation, and he believes the response shows the value of those exercises.

“Accidents can happen and the variable we can control is how we respond. I am proud of the way our guys responded,” he said.

The twin-screw Island Wind, built in 1982 and outfitted with push knees, is undergoing hull repairs at Island Tug & Barge’s Seattle facility. ITB-280 was not damaged.

By Professional Mariner Staff