The Atigun Pass, a decommissioned oil tanker, drifted for five days off the Washington and Oregon coasts but was finally brought under control. It was carrying about 25,000 gallons of residual fuel and other oils.
96 miles off of Newport, Oregon
November 25, 2001
The 2,600-foot broken primary tow wire continued to dangle from the ATIGUN PASS’s bow. The half-mile-long steel cable weighed several tons and, without action to retrieve it, posed a risk to submerged pipelines, power and communication lines when it re-entered shallow water on the final leg of its voyage.
November 24, 2001
At 9:05 a.m., the six-man salvage team returned to the deck of the tanker (shuttled in groups of three by commercial helicopter). The crew of the BARBARA FOSS came into play again. At 11:26 a.m., aided by moderating winds and seas, the BARBARA FOSS retrieved the emergency towline that had been lost when the synthetic portion broke on November 22 and passed it again to the tug DE DA. Once the towline was secured, the salvage team on the ship rigged a new 900-foot emergency towline as a backup in case the DE DA had another towline failure as it proceeded on its voyage towards Hawaii and, ultimately, China.
At 2:45 p.m. the SEA VICTORY was released from service. The BARBARA FOSS was released at 4:25 p.m. and began its return voyage to Neah Bay.
The Coast Guard required SmitWijs to have an additional tug escort until the DE DA and ATIGUN PASS were well offshore. Crowley’s tug SEA VENTURE provided this service.
November 23, 2001
The tug SEA VENTURE arrived from Seattle at about 5:30 a.m. The ATIGUN PASS had drifted to within 27 miles of the coast overnight, and was continuing eastward at about 2 mph.
At 8:20 a.m., efforts began to shuttle a salvage team of six salvers from RivTow Marine (under contract with Smit) onto the pitching and rolling deck of the ATIGUN PASS from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. They brought a 450-foot, 9-inch-circumference synthetic salvage towline on-board as part of their equipment.
The tanker did not have a deployable anchor to help stop the tanker's drift if it were to enter shallow coastal waters. As a precautionary measure, Ecology’s mariners assisted other experts in developing a plan to add seawater as ballast to the tanker. This contingency plan would direct the salvage team to flood seawater into the tanker to make it “sit” lower in the water, if a grounding became inevitable. Increasing the vessel’s “draft” would help assure that, should the vessel ground, it would occur in deeper water outside the breaking surf, making future salvage efforts considerably more effective.
The SEA VENTURE's tow line was passed to the salvage crew aboard the ATIGUN PASS (now about 24 miles off Washington's Long Beach Peninsula) at 10:10 a.m. via a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on scene. The SEA VENTURE immediately started towing the ATIGUN PASS west at about 3 mph.. Attempts were made to retrieve and reconnect the original emergency tow wire using the SEA VICTORY but failed. The 6-person salvage crew was lifted off of the tanker by commercial helicopter at about 3:30 p.m..
During the night, the SEA VENTURE reversed course to bring the ATIGUN PASS closer to the coast due to restrictions on the range of the helicopter that was to be used Saturday morning for taking the salvage crew out the ship. Winds backed to the southeast, but continued at gale strength.
At this point, the tanker’s grounding remained a possibility, although significantly less likely.
November 22, 2001
The Crowley tug SEA VENTURE departed Seattle at 6:15 a.m. to provide assistance. The passage was expected to take approximately 24 hours.
The Crowley tug SEA VICTORY departed from Astoria crossing the bar at about 7 a.m., arriving on scene at about noon . The tug's departure had been delayed for more than 12 hours by extreme swells on the Columbia River bar.
At 7 a.m., the BARBARA FOSS arrived with its specially trained crew, good maneuverability, specialized line recovery and towing systems, and salvage fendering (bumpers). The rescue tug crew worked to retrieve the emergency towing cable from the tanker. By 9:40 a.m., the BARBARA FOSS’s crew had recovered the tanker’s emergency towline and passed it to the Chinese tug DE DA, which began stretching out the line. However, at 11:40 a.m. it was reported that the synthetic portion of towline broke. The fully deployed emergency towing cable was now hanging down the ATIGUN PASS’s bow beside the broken primary tow wire where it was difficult to access.
The ATIGUN PASS, now about 60 miles from shore, continued to drift east toward the coast.
November 21, 2001
The tug DE DA was unable to recapture the primary tow “wire,” a 2¾-inch 335-ton-test steel cable. The tug planned to attempt to recover the emergency towing cable trailing off the tanker. Communication with the tug’s Chinese crew was problematic due to language difficulties.
The tanker drifted north to within 70 miles of the mouth of the Columbia River. There were gale-force winds and 22-foot seas from the south-southwest off the river’s mouth at that time. The responsible party, SmitWijs, held-off contracting for additional tug assistance pending further attempts by the DE DA to retrieve the tow wire.
The weather forecast was for an area of low pressure moving onto the Washington coast causing worsening weather Thursday, with winds reaching up to 58 mph, with higher gusts, and seas building to 34 feet. The direction of the wind and seas were expected to be from the southwest, which would cause the vessel to continue its drift to the northeast, in the direction of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. Given the tanker’s drift rate and heading, Ecology’s professional mariners projected that it could reach the beach within 24 to 32 hours.
After discussion with Captain John Thornton of Ecology’s Columbia River Field Office, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Portland, Captain James Spitzer took strong action to protect the coast and ordered SmitWijs to arrange additional tug assistance and plan for a salvage contingency. SmitWijs contracted with Crowley Marine Services to assist in the rescue.
At 4 p.m., Ecology Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen directed Puget Sound Field Office Supervisor Norm Davis to call Foss Maritime to dispatch the rescue tug, BARBARA FOSS, from its station in Neah Bay to pre-position it near the drifting tanker. Ecology began notifying stakeholders of the potential threat.
Ecology’s marine experts and its spill response team were placed on heightened alert to assist as needed during the holiday weekend. Ecology vessel inspector Valerie Scott and Captain Thornton rotated duty at the Coast Guard’s crisis action center in Portland, Oregon during the long weekend.
November 20, 2001
The ATIGUN PASS, shadowed by the tug DE DA, drifted to the north northeast at 2.5 to 3.5 mph. Winds of 45 to 60 mph from the south to southwest pushed up seas of 20 to 30 feet. The DE DA's captain reported, “Crew are getting ready for re-terminating [the tow wire], but very-hard-doing.”
November 19, 2001
At approximately 9 p.m., the towline between the 321-foot tug DE DA and the 906-foot oil tanker ATIGUN PASS parted in a storm 96 miles off of Newport, Oregon. The tanker drifted in a northerly direction at up to four miles per hour in 20- to 30-foot seas and wind gusts up to 60 mph.