Tug Chickamauga sinking

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

Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard have established a Unified Command (UC) to oversee the cleanup of oil leaking from the sunken tug Chickamauga in Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island. The 70-foot wood-hulled vessel sunk early this morning.

Summary information

Date of incident:  October 2, 2013

Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island

Type of incident: 200-300 gallons of red dye diesel
Cause of incident: Unknown
Responsible party: Private owner

Status updates

July 25, 2016

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office announced a plea agreement under which the Chickamauga’s owner pleaded guilty to charges of allowing the vessel to become derelict and polluting state waters.

April 14, 2014

The Chickamauga was disposed of, but DNR saved the helm and throttle control station (pics shown in Flickr set). DNR will delivering those items to the Seaport Museum in Tacoma for restoration and eventually display.

January 30, 2014

Global Diving & Salvage, Inc., under contract with DNR, towed the Chickamauga from Eagle Harbor to Port Townsend’s Boat Haven Marina without incident. The vessel was hauled out at the boatyard the same day. The vessel’s owner has until February 18 to appeal DNR’s custody. DNR staff are assessing the historical significance of the vessel.  It is listed in the Washington Heritage Register for two main reasons: It’s the first diesel-powered tug and it had a long association with the state’s timber industry. The vessel was remodeled substantially in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, and the original engines were replaced several times. Museums or other organizations concerned with historical preservation may inquire with DNR at dvrp@dnr.wa.gov.

January 16, 2014

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took possession of the Chickamauga today. DNR operates the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program to manage abandoned and derelict boats and ships under 200 feet. DNR is making arrangements to tow the Chickamauga to a boat yard in the Seattle area where it will be brought up on dry land for storage for the immediate future.

January 15, 2014

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges today against the Chickamauga’s owner in connection with the October 2013 sinking and oil spill.

October 14, 2013

Spill responders from the Coast Guard’s response contractor continue to make spot checks at the Chickamauga, which remains surrounded by containment boom and oil spill cleanup pads. A light sheen (thin coating of oil on the surface) is seen within the containment area. The Coast Guard is maintaining its contract to ensure proper maintenance of the boom and pads.
The marina continues to manage the pumps that keep the tug afloat. Unified Command and the marina’s management continue efforts to clarify ownership and responsibility for the vessel. 

October 10, 2013

A crane barge arrived this morning and connected to rigging set up by divers yesterday. The crane has begun to apply pressure to the rigging and tug to first set the Chickamauga upright and then raise it. Some light releases of diesel fuel and engine oil have been confined to the boom that surrounds the tug. 
As the crane raises the tug, divers and other salvage workers will position and operate pumps to remove water. When the Chickamauga is fully raised crews will remove the last fuel and oil on board to the extent possible. 
Meanwhile, Unified Command continues to work with the involved parties to plan the next steps for the Chickamauga after it is no longer a potential spill threat.

The Chickamauga now sits upright in rigging slung from a crane barge. Crews are adjusting the slings so that lifting can begin. They will pump water out of the boat as it surfaces.
The boom and pads surrounding the sunken tug have contained oil releases that occurred during the righting. We have not calculated the amount released, but it produced a slick thick enough to be able to recover some oil from the surface.
The salvage team will be ready to remove oil and diesel fuel from the vessel once it is on the surface.

Salvage crews patched the Chickamauga’s hull and the vessel was able to float without crane support by about 9:30 last night.  Small trickles of water continue to enter the hull, but two pumps, operated by marina staff, are keeping the tug afloat.
The Coast Guard used a federal oil spill contingency fund to contract for the spill response and to lift the vessel in order to remove the remaining oil on board. This use of the fund ended when the tug could float without the crane.
Crews removed the rigging and crane barge departed last night.
Workers removed about 500 gallons of diesel fuel and 50 to 100 gallons of oily water from the tug, after it surfaced during yesterday’s crane lift. Crews wiped the deck for oil, but inside the hull, a similar cleaning will have to wait until the removal of a large amount of debris.
Around the tug, crews continue to tend cleanup materials and containment boom. Today or Monday, after determining that no more oil can be recovered from the water, crews will remove this equipment.

October 9, 2013

Late yesterday afternoon a mooring line that held the sunken tug Chickamauga at a list snapped. The vessel rolled to rest on its right side. At high tide, the boat is completely submerged. 

After the roll, a dive team, still operating under a Coast Guard contract, sealed an opening to a lubricating oil tank.  Some oil leaked during the roll and light releases continue. The boom and absorbent pads surrounding the tug have contained the recent discharges.

The unified command has decided to proceed with raising the Chickamauga, using the Coast Guard contract. Divers will rig the vessel today, to prepare it for the arrival tomorrow of a crane barge.

Righting and lifting the boat will allow salvage crews to complete the removal of oil and fuel from the vessel to end the environmental threats from the sinking.

The marina leases state aquatic lands from the Department of Natural Resources, and a wreck must be removed from such lands. The unified command is continuing discussions with involved party about further steps for the vessel.

October 3, 2013

Unified Command met on-scene this morning.  Response crews are continuing to swap out absorbents and are still recovering product from the water.  It does not appear that any product is releasing from the vessel at this time; however, there is still believed to be some product in the waste oil tank on the aft of the vessel.  The fill and vent on this tank are currently plugged.  The vessel continues to list and divers cannot safely access the waste oil tank to remove the remaining petroleum.

There is some light sheening in several slips in the marina; however the containment boom seems to be functioning efficiently at this time.  The current plan is to continue to observe the vessel, recover product from the water, and investigate possibilities for the safe removal of petroleum from the aft tank.

The Chickamauga still lists (leans) to the right side.  Because of this, divers cannot safely access the sixth and last of the fuel tanks found aboard the vessel to recover its contents. The vents and fill for this tank were plugged last night before the vessel started to shift.  There is some amount of petroleum (likely waste oil) remaining in that tank. 

We are not seeing any active discharge from the vessel at this time.

Response crews are maintaining a single ring of containment boom around the vessel.  This boom is lined with absorbents. We could not get a second ring of containment boom around the vessel without restricting marina operations. 

The skimmer brought on scene  was not used, so all on-water recovery has been done with absorbents. The owner estimated 400 gallons on board. We recovered about fifty gallons from the vessel tanks, and will press the absorbents to measure the oil removed from the water.

Because there is still some petroleum remaining in the tank, the containment boom will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Response crews will monitor the scene approximately every 12 hours to ensure the vessel is not discharging. If a discharge is identified we can resume recovery operations. Ecology and Coast Guard spill-response personnel expect to be able to depart the scene this afternoon.

The Coast Guard, which has hired the response and diving contractor with federal oil spill contingency funds,  is discussing salvage options with the marina manager. The responsibility for salvage normally falls to the owner, but could shift to the marina if the owner cannot pay.

October 2, 2013

Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard have established a Unified Command (UC) to oversee the cleanup of oil leaking from the sunken tug Chickamauga in Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island.

The 70-foot wood-hulled vessel sunk early this morning. By 10 a.m., marina and fire department crews used a pre-staged Ecology spill-supplies trailer to place spill containment boom and absorbent materials around the boat. This contained most of the diesel fuel and motor oil that began to leak to the water.

The owner could not be contacted, and the Coast Guard opened a federal oil spill contingency fund to hire a spill response contractor. A diver is attempting to plug fuel tank air vents from which the diesel is floating into the water. Additional containment supplies are en-route. Some patches of sheen are visible outside of the initial containment.

The amount of fuel on the vessel is not known. A tug this size typically has about a 2,000 gallon fuel storage capacity. Tentative estimates place the amount released so far at 200-300 gallons.

The Cickamauga is resting on the bottom at a slight list to the right. The cabin and stack are above the surface. It was built in 1914, the nation’s first diesel-powered tug.

Divers plugged all six of the Chickamauga’s fuel vents.  This stops most or all of the release of oil into the water.  Next, crews will pump out the fuel tanks, an effort now getting under way. 
Cleanup continues on the water.  Contractor crews are applying more absorbents and are preparing to use small skimmers deployed from the dock and boats.  They have ringed the spill with additional containment boom.
With oil releases stopped or contained, Unified Command is weighing its next steps for the Chickamauga.
This morning’s rapid deployment of boom and absorbents by the marina and fire department was critical to the effective response.  An Ecology program launched in 2006 established more than 90 trailers pre-positioned around the state, with local crews trained to get oil spill responses off to a fast start.


News releases

Media contact

Larry Altose, Media contact, larry.altose@ecy.wa.gov, 425-649-7009