Hero sinking - Bay Center oil spill

(Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting, but is subject to change as new information becomes available.)

The U.S. Coast Guard, and the Washington Department of Ecology are responding to a sunken vessel just south of Bay Center in Pacific County. The report indicated that the former research vessel was moored and sinking. A Coast Guard inspection determined that the vessel was not a threat to navigation. The amount of oil on board the vessel is unknown.

Summary information

Date of incident:  March 4, 2017

271 Dike Road
Bay Center, WA

Type of incident: Diesel and lube oil, unknown quantity
Cause of incident: Sinking vessel
Responsible party: Undetermined

Status updates

March 27, 2017

Ecology continues its daily response to the Bay Center Oil Spill, monitoring the sunken vessel HERO, collecting samples and taking photos. The ship was producing a light gray sheen this morning, and after boarding it, an unrecoverable rainbow sheen was found originating from the mid-ship vault. Responders from Ecology and Global Diving & Salvage removed and replaced absorbent pads throughout the ship, even though they had soaked up very little oil.

Responders noted the amount of river mud infiltrating the vessel. In addition to coating the HERO, mud is encasing the absorbent material being deployed, which makes the pads less effective at capturing oil.

Ecology will continue to closely monitor the situation and take samples as necessary.

March 22, 2017

Ecology will continue its response today to the Bay Center Oil Spill to monitor the sunken vessel HERO's condition, gather samples and take photos.

Yesterday, Ecology observed no change during its response to the incident, which is near the mouth of the Palix River in Pacific County. Samples were taken of the light sheen that continues to be produced by the vessel. There was no obvious petroleum odor.

March 20, 2017

The Department of Ecology response to the Bay Center Oil Spill on the Palix River in Pacific County continued over the weekend and into Monday as responders monitor the sunken vessel HERO. The ship was producing a light sheen today, but no odor was observed. Samples of sheen coming from the vessel were collected. The cleanup contractor Global Diving & Salvage also removed and replaced absorbent materials.

As the tide went out, responders accessed the inside of the forward portion of the vessel. It showed no signs of pooled petroleum, but the absorbent pads placed in it were saturated. Global deployed fresh absorbent materials to that area. The contractor will return in one week to replace all absorbent material, unless conditions change.

The absorbent boom that responders deployed last Friday to a dock owned by a local oyster farm down river was removed. The boom was not replaced because the sheen at that location has dispersed and is no longer being recovered.

Ecology will continue to respond to the site daily to monitor, take pictures, and gather samples.

March 17, 2017

The Department of Ecology continues its response at the Bay Center Oil Spill and the vessel HERO that sank in the Palix River March 4. Responders will continue to monitor the vessel over the weekend, collect samples, and take photos. Global Diving & Salvage will be back on scene Monday to check, remove, and replace absorbent pads.

This morning, responders arrived just before low tide to assess the vessel and collect samples. A faint petroleum odor and a light silver-grey sheen was observed. No oil was present in the mid-ship area as it was previously.

Additional sheen samples were collected just down river from the vessel.

The absorbent boom that was placed earlier this week at a dock owned by a local oyster farm was mostly clean with some petroleum present. The shoreline near this dock is visibly impacted by the spill.

March 15, 2017

The Department of Ecology continues to lead the spill response efforts at the Bay Center Oil Spill and work on site daily to monitor the vessel HERO, which sank on March 4 and has been intermittently sheening for 11 days. The continuing plan is to replace absorbents as needed, and take sheen samples and pictures daily.

Ecology and Global Diving & Salvage were on site this morning and observed a light sheen and faint petroleum odor. Global Diving & Salvage accessed the vessel, and removed and replaced all absorbent materials. A storage area in the front part of the HERO contained a recoverable amount of mixed petroleum product. Global added fresh absorbents and removed saturated absorbent materials three times before closing off that area. Absorbents were also redeployed around the deck area and secured to allow more vessel movement during the increasing high tides. The absorbent pads will stay in place until Global's next visit.

Absorbent boom was also deployed at the neighboring Bay Center Oyster Farms’ dock, which is downstream from the vessel.

March 13, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard, Ecology, and Global Diving & Salvage, Inc. will meet this morning to remove absorbent pads and discuss ongoing efforts to eliminate the environmental threat posed by the sunken vessel HERO, which began sinking at its mooring on Saturday, March 4, near Bay Center on the Palix River in Pacific County. The vessel has been producing an oily sheen for nine days.

This weekend’s containment and monitoring efforts were successful even as higher than normal tides washed over the sunken HERO.

The U.S. Coast Guard this morning determined that it has completed its role in the response to the Bay Center oil spill after meeting with Ecology, Pacific County Emergency Management Agency, and Global Diving and Salvage. Ecology immediately took over as the primary response agency and will maintain the agreement with the contractor to continue removing and replacing absorbent material inside of the vessel until contaminants are deemed non-recoverable.

Absorbent pads that were removed this morning from weekend operations were completely saturated.

As containment and monitoring operations continue, Ecology will maintain a presence onsite to assess the vessel’s condition and collect samples. This strategy may change and the Coast Guard may re-enter the response if the contaminant release increases or the vessel’s structure becomes compromised.

March 12, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard and Ecology continue to monitor the sunken HERO, Sunday, as higher than normal tides wash over the vessel at the site of the Bay Center Oil Spill. Responders at Saturday’s monitoring operation reported that a visible sheen and an odor of diesel fuel was still detectable, however, wind and white caps made for less-than-favorable conditions.

A sample of the sheen was taken from a calmer area near the vessel’s dock.

Support Information for Shellfish Growers

  • The Department of Natural Resources continues to evaluate permanent removal options for the HERO and is working to identify the funding and equipment that will be needed. A timeline for the highly technical “lift and reposition” removal is not available.
  • The National Pollution Fund Center is standing by to advise growers that have been impacted by this spill. Please contact Ecology’s Linda Pilkey-Jarvis at (360) 407-7447 for more information.
  • NOAA biologist Jesse Stark remains available to assist growers with questions and advice.

The Washington Department of Health continues to watch the situation closely. If you have questions, please call Scott Berbells at 360-236-3324, or Mark Toy at 360-236-3321.

March 11, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard and Ecology’s efforts at the Bay Center oil spill have turned to containment and monitoring over the weekend after responders mounted successful recovery operations that removed approximately 1,000 gallons of oily water and saturated absorbent pads off of the sunken HERO Thursday and Friday.

Teams from Global Diving and Salvage gained access to the port side fuel tanks and a mid-ship area inside the vessel and removed 500 gallons of material yesterday. It was also confirmed that 500 gallons of oily water was removed from the vessel Thursday.

New absorbent material was placed throughout the inside of the HERO and on its deck, however it continues to sheen and is producing an odor of diesel fuel. Samples of the sheen were taken for continued analysis.

Ecology will have responders on scene daily today and Sunday to continue safety and mitigation efforts. The USCG will remain engaged with their contractor.

March 10, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard and Ecology continue to oversee the response to eliminate the pollution threat posed by the sunken HERO, a 125-ft former research vessel that sank at its moorings nearly one week ago.

A dive team from the recovery contractor Global Diving and Salvage will attempt an operation to access the vessel’s port tanks, today, after Ecology located a diagram of the HERO that details their position.

An Ecology response team on scene yesterday observed a distinct odor of diesel fuel that was more noticeable than during prior visits. Lab results confirmed that contaminant sheening from the vessel on Wednesday, March 8, was diesel fuel.

As a visible rainbow sheen continued to flow with the outgoing tide, the lower portions of the HERO became accessible and a team from the salvage contractor located recoverable diesel fuel. A vacuum truck was hired to remove the trapped fuel. The volume of the recovery is not immediately available.

New absorbent booms were deployed mid-ship, and the absorbents that had been deployed on the vessel’s deck were recovered and replaced. They were saturated with petroleum.

March 9, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard and Ecology continued to monitor the sorbent booms and sweeps around the deck of the HERO in order to minimize the amount of unrecoverable oil that is sheening from the sunken vessel.

Crews successfully removed all accessible petroleum product from the vessel earlier this week, but significant hazards and the inability to safely position divers to access tanks that are underwater has hindered a full accounting of the hazardous material. A full accounting will not be possible until the salvage and recovery operations begin. The Department of Natural Resources is currently evaluating removal options and working to identify possible funding for the operation.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Ecology will be on scene again today overseeing the recovery efforts and continuing the investigation to determine who the responsible parties are.

The Washington Department of Health is monitoring the situation and urges anyone with questions about the effect this incident might have on shellfish to call Scott Berbells at 360-236-3324, or Mark Toy at 360-236-3321.

March 8, 2017

Work that began yesterday to remove the remaining oil from the HERO continues today. Ecology and the Coast Guard are overseeing all operations.

With safety of workers as the primary objective, the response contractor hired by the Coast Guard, Global Diving and Salvage, is staging oil recovery efforts from a work boat placed along the HERO’s port side, away from the dock. Global determined that factors such as the vessel’s list and instability, and the presence of debris and strong tides and currents made it impossible to put divers into the water. At the same time, the condition of the dock where the vessel is moored is unsafe for use as a working platform.

Crews measured all accessible holding tanks. On each tank, workers verified that no fuel or oil was in a vents or connection ports, then sealed or plugged the tank. As the tide dropped, more tank vents and ports became accessible and they were sealed.

While continuing the assessment, it became apparent that most of the sheen streaming from the HERO was originating from a mid-ship vault. Absorbent sweep and boom were deployed around the inside of the vessel’s deck, which significantly reduced the sheen. Further investigation uncovered a hydraulic system with approximately 30-35 gallons of fresh oil. All of it was removed.

At 3 p.m. yesterday, the weather worsened and operations were shut down. Global Diving and Salvage removed and replaced all of the absorbent sweeps/booms before disembarking the HERO.

Yesterday’s efforts recovered a total of 60-70 gallons of petroleum products from the HERO, but more oil could be aboard. Several vents and ports will not be accessible until the vessel is refloated or removed from the water. The vessel may produce more rainbow sheen in coming tidal cycles as water washes over residual oil left from yesterday’s operations or from oil or fuel left in inaccessible vents or ports.

The absorbent sweep and boom will be in place for another 24 hours. Crews will continue to return to remove and replace the sweep/boom until oil is no longer being recovered by the absorbents. The U.S. Coast Guard will check on the vessel each day.

NOTE: The Department of Health’s shellfish team is monitoring the situation. For more information, contact Scott Berbells at 360-236-3324, or Mark Toy at 360-236-3321.

March 7, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard, and the Washington Department of Ecology are responding to a sunken vessel just south of Bay Center at 271 Bay Center Dike Road on the Palix River in Pacific County.

The Coast Guard and Ecology were notified of the incident by Pacific County EMD at 12:58 p.m. on Saturday, March 4. The report indicated that the former research vessel was moored and sinking. A Coast Guard inspection determined that the vessel was not a threat to navigation.

Ecology received an additional report on Sunday, March 5. Upon arrival later that day, Ecology observed a light, unrecoverable rainbow sheen. It dissipated with the tide while our responders were on scene. Sorbent booms were not placed around the vessel because of swift river currents and the risk they posed to navigation.

The Coast Guard boarded the vessel in 2013, and at that time found that it held at least ~25 gallons of lube oil, and ~5 gallons of diesel. The amount of oil on board the vessel today is unknown.

On Monday the Coast Guard, Ecology and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, owners of the tidelands on which the vessel is sitting, discussed methods for mitigating the situation. The Coast Guard opened the National Oil Pollution Liability Trust Fund to hire a contractor to assess the vessel and remove remaining petroleum products onboard.

Due to the location (narrow channel, strong currents, significant tidal changes, etc.) and the potential unstable condition of the vessel, there is a possibility that diving may not be an option due to safety concerns. Removal of the pollution threat is the immediate goal. Future plans for raising, salvage and/or removal of the vessel will need to be conducted by WA Dept. of Natural Resources as the federal fund may not be used for vessel removal. 

The plan is to begin the vessel assessment as soon as possible Tuesday, March 7, during low tide.

Media contact

Dave Bennett, Media contact, dave.bennett@ecy.wa.gov, 360-407-6239