Barge Spills Diesel Fuel Near Anacortes

A leaking barge spilled about 26,000 gallons of diesel fuel into Rosario Strait and waters north of Anacortes early yesterday.

Light oil sheens touched five San Juan islands, but environmental damage appeared to be minimal "for the amount of oil that was spilled," said Ron Holcomb of the state Department of Ecology.

Affected islands included Guemes, Blakely, Cypress, Sinclair and the east side of Orcas. But nowhere was damage deemed serious enough to warrant beach cleanup, said Lt. Jeff Gafkjen of the U.S. Coast Guard.

One oiled bird, a loon, was captured and taken to a wildlife-recovery center in Lynnwood. A floating boom 1,000 feet long was installed at the entrance to Doe Bay on Orcas Island to protect wildlife there, Holcomb said.

New Year's Eve guests at the Doe Bay Resort were unaffected and for the most part unaware of the spill, said resort office manager Blake Fisher. They were partying in hot tubs and planning a midnight swim in the bay.

The diesel fuel is lighter than crude oil or bunker fuel. By this morning 75 percent should have evaporated, Holcomb said.

The leak from Crowley Barge 101 was discovered about 12:30 a.m. yesterday near Jack Island, about 3 miles north of Anacortes. The 26-year-old barge, being towed by the Crowley Marine Services tug Mercury, left Vancouver, B.C., about 3 p.m. Friday and was to rendezvous with a tanker near Jack Island to transfer fuel.

Crew members found a 4-foot-by-4-inch gash in a starboard tank below the water line with a 20-foot scrape leading to the gash, said Ron Langley, another Ecology spokesman. Another tank had a 10-inch crack.

"Clearly it collided with something," Langley said. "But we don't know what or where."

The leak was halted by 4 a.m. yesterday. The tanks were to be patched and remaining oil unloaded today.

Ribbons of oil were reported as far north as Point Roberts, at the Canada-U.S. border, but were heavier farther south, especially off Guemes and Cypress islands. A boom was installed around the barge, and 150 to 200 gallons of fuel was collected by a skimmer, Langley said.

Herring are congregating to spawn off Guemes Island and could be affected by the spill, Holcomb said. But he said the oil is unlikely to spread into the tideflats of Padilla Bay, a national estuarine sanctuary, or Samish Bay, where shellfish are grown commercially.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has set up a bird-rescue hotline, 206-664-8397, asking residents of the area to call if they spot oiled birds or other wildlife.

The barge spilled about one-fourth as much oil as the Tenyo Maru, a Japanese fish processor that sank in 1991, coating Olympic Peninsula beaches with bunker fuel.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporters Himanee Gupta and Eric Nalder is included in this report.