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F/V Aleutian Isle

On August 13, 2022, the 58-foot Swinomish Tribal fishing vessel Aleutian Isle began taking on water for unknown reasons, and sank 300 yards off Sunset Point on San Juan Island in Washington State.

The Aleutian Isle went down with approximately 2,500 gallons of diesel, 100 gallons of engine oil and hydraulic oil, and several sections of purse-seining nets that became dislodged from the vessel. The vessel did not initially produce an oil sheen, but as responders arrived on-scene, a 1.75 mile sheen was reported and threatened crossing the international border into Canadian waters. The vessel also sank in a location that is frequented by the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale during the months of August and September. The threats of diesel impacting the whales, and the adrift fishing nets entangling other marine mammals, prompted U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Sector Puget Sound to contact the NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator (SSC) for the Pacific Northwest.

Over the course of the 42-day response, the SSC and NW Regional Response Officer provided the Coast Guard with technical scientific advising regarding currents, weather, transboundary communications with Canadian partners, endangered species, fishing net debris—while navigating political and public interest. They also coordinated with a variety of other NOAA offices, including National Weather Service (NWS), Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, and National Marine Fisheries Service, to provide a suite of unique products. Examples of their support included 14 oil spill trajectory models for potential spills, twice daily spot weather forecasts from the NWS, and the development of a current prediction model of the incident location to determine diving windows of minimal current for divers to safely attach hoist cables to lift the vessel.

On September 17, 2022, the Aleutian Isle was successfully lifted from the ocean floor and was finally taken completely out of the water on September 21, eliminating it as a threat to the environment. This complex response highlighted the coordination role of OR&R’s SSCs, as well as the resources within NOAA in the effort to coordinate and produce a variety of unique products to advise responders and protect natural resources.

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