Sunken tug Challenger refloated in Alaska

A Coast Guard-led operation to salvage the sunken tug Challenger from Alaska’s Gastineau Channel has successfully refloated the vessel and towed it to dock.

The 96’ single-screw Challenger, built in 1944 for the U.S. Army and later used as a “bunk and breakfast” in Seattle, was owned by a Juneau artist, R.D. Robinson, and moored in the channel.

On Sept. 12, it sank in about 20’ of water, leaving the top of the mast sticking up at high tide, and much of the vessel visible at low tide.

“Basically, it’s one of those fixer upper type boats that’s been anchored up in Gastineau Channel. It just finally took on enough water and sank,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Geno Kludt told Alaska Public Media shortly after the sinking.

A containment boom was deployed and the site was marked, but the tug continued to sit in the channel while salvage plans were made, a process that took more than four months. At the end of January, the Coast Guard received approval under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWCPA), to remove and destroy the vessel.

The agency had been unable to complete planned lightering to remove residual fuel and oil from the vessel, leading to heightened environmental concerns the longer the Challenger sat in the water.

A unified command began planning to hoist the tug out of the water in early February, installing four one-ton slings and enlisting the 280’x76’x16’ barge crane Brightwater to hoist it from the bottom.

The operation hit a snag during the first attempt to raise the Challenger on Monday, the Juneau Empire reported. Although the boat was lifted out of the water, it was too heavy and unwieldy to maneuver, the paper reported, and so the assembled groups moved it to shallower water, pumped the vessel out at low tide, and then refloated it at high tide on Tuesday.

Olson Marine’s Norman O escorted the Challenger in a dead ship tow to the Alaska-Juneau Dock.

“We are very pleased to see today’s positive results and look forward to continued progress in cleaning the Tug Challenger at the A. J. Dock,” said Cmdr Patrick Hilbert, incident commander. “We could not have had this success without the outstanding cooperation between our contractors and federal, state, local and tribal partners supporting the removal operations.”

Global Diving and Salvage Inc. led the efforts to raise and dewater the tug, with Southeast Alaska Lightering and Southeast Underwater Services providing pollution control services. Turnagain Marine Construction owns the Brightwater.

During the next phase, the Challenger will be assessed for any remaining oil or hazardous materials, and then dismantled.

The Challenger operation is being funded by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

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Ashley Herriman

Ashley Herriman is WorkBoat's online editor.

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