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Sunken fishing vessel raised, fuel offloaded at Henry island

Divers used a pump truck onboard a barge to retrieve more than 1,900 litres of diesel fuel from the Chief Joseph, which sank May 3

A fishing vessel that sank off Henry Island early this month with nearly full fuel tanks was pumped out and raised intact without causing any significant environmental damage, officials in Washington state say.

The 48-foot commercial fishing boat, called Chief Joseph, went down on May 3 after taking on water west of Henry Island, just over the U.S. border about five kilometres from Sidney Island. A man and a dog were rescued from a life raft on shore by the U.S. Coast Guard at about 6 p.m.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter aircrew conducted a flight over the area and reported a 90-metre sheen on the water and a debris field from the sunken vessel. Absorbent booms were laid to capture most of the fuels.

Salvage operations got underway last week with divers from Global Diving and Salvage using a pump truck on board a barge to retrieve about 1,900 litres of diesel fuel from the Chief Joseph’s tanks.

The divers then wrapped slings under the hull of the vessel and a crane was used to pull it out of the water, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Brendan Cowan of San Juan County’s Department of Emergency Management said the salvage was a success because of several factors, including good weather, quick action by the coast guard and the location of the sinking.

“The fishing boat sank in shallow water and didn’t slide any deeper, which was fortunate because it is a high energy, high current location,” Cowan said. “We didn’t know how it was going to unfold, but we were lucky in this case.”

Annika Hirschler, spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said no impacts to marine wildlife were noted after the sinking and there was “minimal sheening” during the removal.

The area around the San Juan Islands is critical habitat for the endangered southern resident killer whales as well as seals and sea birds.

Off Henry Island’s northern tip, Battleship Island is a state bird sanctuary.

Cowan said Henry Island has a handful of year-round residents and some summer cabins, but most of the island is a protected nature reserve.

On Aug. 13, 2022, salvagers faced a much more difficult situation after the 58-foot Aleutian Isle fishing boat with 9,850 litres of fuel on board sank off the west coast of San Juan Island, sliding to a depth of 240 feet.

It took more than a month to raise the vessel and recover the fuel while all three pods of the southern resident killer whales were in the area.

All crew members aboard the Aleutian Isle were rescued.

The cause of the Chief Joseph sinking is still under investigation.

Chief Joseph was transported by barge to Anacortes, where the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ derelict vessel program has taken custody of the vessel, the coast guard said.

Henry Island is a 4.2-square-kilometre island protecting Roche Cove on San Juan Island.

It was the site where searchers discovered the double kayak used by brothers Nicolas West and Daniel MacAlpine who went missing last month while kayaking between Island View Beach and the Southern Gulf Islands. Their bodies were recovered off San Juan Island a few days later.

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