Wind, waves hamper efforts to salvage grounded longliner

Daylight is visible through the aft deck of the wooden longliner Masonic, as it lies battered on the rocks of the Spanish Islands. A forward team boarded the vessel to plug the fuel vents, but further salvage efforts have been hampered by the “high energy associated with weather and sea states,” according to the state DEC. (Hanson Maritime photo/via DEC)

Efforts to salvage a fishing vessel which went aground last week south of Sitka have been unsuccessful to date.

The 70-foot longliner Masonic remains on the rocks on the Spanish Islands, and rough seas and high winds may prevent salvage crews from recovering vessel itself, or the large quantity of fuel on board.

The Masonic is in a bad spot. Hard aground on the rocks of the Spanish Islands, about 80 miles south of Sitka, the 1923 vintage longliner has been pushed on its side, and is being battered by waves and wind.

Salvage crews were able to board the Masonic on May 8, just one day after it went aground, and plugged fuel vents. But since then no one’s been able to return to the Masonic, and the weather has been taking a huge toll on the boat.

“In unsafe conditions, it’s safety first,” said David Pikul, on-scene coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation (SE Region). “And so far for this response, it’s been pretty tough safety conditions.”

Pikul says that the Sitka-based salvage company Hanson Maritime attempted to lighter the estimated 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel from the Masonic on May 12, but was forced to abandon the effort. Conditions became so bad that Hanson could not deploy a containment boom.

Pikul says that the salvage effort is day-to-day.

“Well we’ll keep trying as long as the vessel holds together, and there’s something to work on,” Pikul explained. “At this point the vessel’s laying on it’s side and resting on rocks. It’s just not something that can be accessed by people. So we’re continually trying to find a way to get this situation in a place where a person can enter the boat and try to address the fuel.”

But Pikul is prepared for the possibility that a safe opportunity may never arrive.

“It’s expected that the vessel’s going to continue to deteriorate,” he said. “And it’s really difficult to say whether or not this is going to result in recovery of the remaining oils on the boat, or if the vessel will just deteriorate to the point of collapse.”

The Masonic began taking on water early in the morning of May 7, and was able to send off a single “mayday” call before abandoning ship. The Coast Guard used the vessel’s automatic identification system transponder — required equipment on large vessels that fish offshore — to pinpoint its location south of Cape Decision.

All five crew members were safely rescued by Air Station Sitka.

Robert Woolsey is the news director at KCAW in Sitka.

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