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Response Community Briefs County Officials on the F/V Aleutian Isle Response

MARCH 13, 2023 — On March 2, 2023, members of the response community had the opportunity to brief the San Juan Island Council Members on the challenges and successes from the F/V Aleutian Isle response at the Council Chambers on San Juan Island, Washington. 

A group photo.
Members of the response community briefed the San Juan Island Council Members on the challenges and successes from the F/V Aleutian Isle response. Image credit: Kelley Balcomb-Bartok.

The F/V Aleutian Isle sank on Aug. 13, 2022, off the coast of San Juan Island with approximately 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel on board and a purse-seine net in the water. Over the following 42-day response, an incident command was set up for interagency and international partnerships and collaboration to respond to the first Type 2 incident for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound in 15 years, with the goal of minimizing environmental impacts from pollution.

Council members were regularly briefed throughout the response. This public council meeting focused on topic area presentations from each role in the Incident Command System, to discuss the actions taken during the response, the challenges associated with them, and how they were overcome. The Coast Guard presented on the overall response operations and a timeline of key events. Representing the Environmental Unit, Washington Department of Ecology discussed shoreline protection strategies to protect and mitigate from any impacts from oil, as well as the community air monitoring conducted on the island throughout the response. For the Wildlife Branch, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife discussed the Southern Resident killer whale monitoring and deterrence. The public outreach liaison with Washington Department of Ecology briefed on the importance of communications and the numerous media, outreach, and tribal briefings held during the response. 

For NOAA, the Pacific Northwest scientific support coordinator briefed members on the specific challenges the tidal currents presented to this incident. A collaborative team of oceanographers with OR&R’s Emergency Response Division and NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) worked with the on-site contractor to understand the safety and diving parameters and to share data from an on-site current meter that measured currents throughout the water column. The currents in the Salish Sea are dynamic; what was being observed on-site was offset from the data at nearby current stations, creating challenges for operational decisions to work during a slack current. The team was able to develop a site-specific current prediction model to determine a timing window optimal for dives during a slack current that ultimately supported the safety of complex commercial dive operations and salvaging the vessel.

The Unified Command—consisting of the federal on-scene coordinator from Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, the state on-scene coordinator from Washington State Department of Ecology, and the local on-scene coordinator from San Juan County Office of Emergency Management—also presented on the response from their respective roles. 

In closing, the council shared their own appreciation and on behalf of the island community for the dedicated work, level of detail, and knowledge that was put into this briefing and the overall complexity of the response. The response community is dedicated to continually learning from incidents and applying this knowledge to improve future operations. In 2023, several task forces are taking the opportunity to update policies in the Northwest Area Contingency Plan.

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Last updated Sunday, March 26, 2023 8:24pm PDT