Barge flips, loses its load of scrap metal in Pacific Ocean

Aug 12, 2010 12:00 AM

A 295-foot barge capsized off the Oregon coast, dumping 4,500 tons of scrap metal into the ocean.

The crew of the tug General Jackson reported the barge it was towing had overturned about eight miles offshore of the Columbia River bar around 0730 on April 13. No injuries were reported. The barge held about 500 gallons of diesel fuel.

A U.S. Coast Guard investigation has not been able to determine what caused the Canadian-owned barge to dump its load near Astoria, Ore.

“We don’t know why it capsized in calm weather,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn. “The barge was flipped upside down, so we couldn’t do a thorough inspection. We were more concerned with getting it out of the area.”

General Jackson is owned by Great Northern Marine Towing Ltd., of New Westminster, British Columbia. Todd Brown, the company’s operations manager, said the barge had yet to be righted as of late May. The barge was built with compartments designed to be deliberately flooded in port to help roll a load of logs off one side. Littlejohn said it’s possible one or more compartment flooded.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board is conducting its own inquiry into the incident. Spokesman Chris Krepski said the TSB is still in the process of gathering information. “We’re trying to get aboard the barge to get a closer look,” he said. “Then we’ll determine what level of investigation we’re going to do.”

The Coast Guard responded with an MH-60 helicopter and a 47-foot motor lifeboat. The air crew reported seeing “a light sheen” near the vessel.

“Shortly after arriving on scene, the sheen dissipated,” Littlejohn said. “It was never determined how much exactly leaked, but it wasn’t the 500 gallons on board.”

The Coast Guard prohibited General Jackson from towing the capsized barge into the Columbia River. The tug’s operators made the decision to tow it back to Canada without righting it, Littlejohn said.

“We required them to remain outside the boundaries of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary — between 25 and 50 miles from shore,” he said.

The route took the vessel past the Washington coast and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Following the incident, the Coast Guard reported the oil sheen to both the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE). Neither agency pursued any action.

“Because it wasn’t in state waters, there was never any enforcement action taken by the state,” said Curt Hart, spokesman for the Washington DOE. A state-funded emergency tug stationed at Neah Bay, near the entrance to the strait, was put on notice but not deployed.

The unsecured load of scrap metal sank to the ocean’s floor in about 300 feet of water. Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker said the barge’s owner, Amix Salvage & Sales, of Surrey, British Columbia, plans to attempt to recover the cargo. Amix did not immediately return calls to confirm those plans.

Chris Bernard

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