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December 24, 2009 --- Vol. 15, No. 100December 2009

Tanker escort tug hits Bligh Reef, oil shipments interrupted

A tug boat used to escort oil tankers carrying Alaska North Slope crude ran aground yesterday evening on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, the U.S. Coast Guard reports.

The grounding has delayed the departure of two tankers out of the Port of Valdez to make way for Coast Guard and other response vessels to operate.

Bligh Reef gained infamy in 1989, when the tanker Exxon Valdez struck the charted navigational hazard with disastrous consequences.

The 136-foot tug Pathfinder, which is part of a fleet of Crowley Maritime Corp. escort and docking tugs stationed in Valdez, had been conducting an ice survey and was headed back to port when it struck the reef, the Coast Guard said.

The tug captain radioed the vessel traffic center at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday to report the grounding, the Coast Guard said.

“The Pathfinder cleared the reef and proceeded to deeper waters at about 6:50 p.m.,” says a Coast Guard press release issued at 3:30 this morning. “Anchoring just south of Busby Island, the tug’s six crewmembers reportedly deployed 200 feet of fuel containment booms around the vessel.

“Two of the tug’s centerline diesel fuel tanks were reported breached with a potential spill of 33,500 gallons. The total capacity of the vessel is approximately 127,700 gallons of diesel fuel. None of the crewmembers were reported injured.”

Another tug, the Invader, and the oil spill recovery boat Valdez Star were en route to the grounding site to assist, the Coast Guard said.

Two divers conducted an underwater survey of the Pathfinder’s hull at around 2:30 this morning, but a report on that operation wasn’t immediately available, the Coast Guard said.

A Coast Guard C-130 airplane out of Kodiak is scheduled to fly over the area at 10 a.m. today.

Coast Guard personnel from the Marine Safety Unit in Valdez are investigating the cause of the grounding.

See story in Jan. 3 issue, available online Dec. 31 at www.PetroleumNews.com.

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