Polar Wind runs aground with barge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Coast Guard rescued five crewmembers from the tug Polar Wind after ran aground and began taking on water 20 miles east of Cold Bay. The 78' tug was towing a 250' barge. The weather at the time of the grounding was six- to eight-foot seas and 40-mph winds.

As of this weekend, a unified command consisting of the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Northland Services is responding to a report of fuel sheen around the Polar Wind.

Response crews have deployed containment boom around the tug to help minimize any environmental impact after an aerial survey was conducted and personnel reported a light, broken, rainbow sheen around the grounded vessels Friday.

“Upon receiving reports of the sheen in the water, the unified command activated their response plan to boom the vessels and minimize any environmental impact,” Capt. Paul Mehler III, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, said in a statement. “The potential for maritime pollution has always been one of our primary concerns with this response, once reports indicated that we had an issue, response crews were able to quickly respond to the situation.”

Initial evaluations of the tug showed propeller damage and a missing rudder. It is unknown if the fuel tanks have been damaged, however the sheen is reportedly coming from the tug. The barge has at least five flooded spaces in the hull and remains hard aground. There are no cargo areas below the main deck of the barge.

The fuel quantity on board the Polar Wind has been updated to reportedly more than 20,500 gals. of diesel and the barge is reportedly carrying 1,800 gals. of diesel and 90 refrigerated cargo containers, 30 of which are in use with a cargo of frozen fish.

A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew, deployed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman, arrived on scene at 2:14 a.m. on Nov. 14, and safely hoisted three of the five crewmembers from the 78' vessel and transported them to Cold Bay, according to a press release. The Dolphin helicopter crew left their Coast Guard rescue swimmer with the remaining two crewmembers and an Air Station HC-130 Hercules airplane remained overhead to monitor the situation. An Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak arrived on scene and hoisted the two remaining crewmembers and the rescue swimmer and transported them safely to Cold Bay.

Northland Services, owner of the tug, has hired Global Diving and Salvage to develop a plan to salvage the tug and barge, and Alaska Chadux to respond to any pollution issues.

A Coast Guard 17th District watchstander received a report from the Coast Guard Communications Station in Kodiak reporting that the Polar Wind, with five crewmembers aboard, ran aground and was taking on water 20 miles east of Cold Bay at the opening of Pavlof Bay.

The cutter Sherman, conducting a Bering Sea patrol, launched their Dolphin helicopter crew and Air Station Kodiak launched the Jayhawk helicopter crew and the Hercules airplane crew to assist with the rescue.

“The safe rescue of the crewmembers of the tug Polar Wind highlights the importance of our continual presence in the Bering Sea and the northern Pacific and the quick response capabilities of our ship and aircraft crews,” Capt. Paul Mehler III, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, said in a statement. “However, our mission still continues. Now that the crew of the Polar Wind has been safely removed from vessel, we are shifting our focus to ensure that any potential pollution from the vessel is contained to protect the environment and marine life.”