The sinking of two commercial fishing vessels in Jakalof Bay near Homer has local oyster growers concerned about possible environmental effects.
The incident may have happened as early as December 24th but wasn’t discovered until Christmas Day, when a passing vessel noticed two sunken vessels – the F/V Leading Lady and the F/V Kupreanof – in Jakalof Bay about 12 miles south of Homer.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Jonathan Alexander says the Leading Lady is reported to have about 50 gallons of diesel fuel and an unknown quantity of hydraulic oil on board. He says a group made up of members of the Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation travelled to the site of the sinking December 29th to conduct an assessment.
"The way that the vessel is sitting, with another vessel sitting on top of it ... it was unsafe for our divers to recover the fuel at that point," said Alexander.
Alexander says the 53-foot Leading Lady sank down about 40 feet and is laying on its side on the sea floor. The other vessel – the F/V Kupreanof – is directly on top, with its bow buried into the Leading Lady. He says the Coast Guard has contracted with Global Diving and Salvage to put together a plan to offload the fuel and oil safely.
The sinking occurred in the middle of a sensitive area on the fringes of Kachemak Bay, used for oyster farming. Alexander says a fuel sheen was produced by the event.
"When I was on the scene, we did see a sheen ... it was maybe 20-feet by 20-feet," he said.
Some Jakalof Bay residents have reported that the sheen has grown to as large as 100-feet by 100-feet. Oyster grower Margo Reveil told the Homer Tribune that the sheen had spread all the way to the back of the bay on an outgoing tide. Reveil says the sheen is not likely to harm existing oysters but she is concerned it could be harmful to oyster seeds, or spat.
Alexander says the wind and currents in the area – plus the fact that the Leading Lady is fully submerged – make it difficult to clean up the sheen. He says no boom has been placed around the vessels at this time.
A plan to salvage the rest of the fuel and oil onboard the Leading Lady is expected soon.
Alexander says he is not sure what caused the vessels to sink but heavy snowload is suspected. More than 48 inches of snow fell in the area during a large storm that moved through Southcentral Alaska December 24th and 25th.