Dutch Harbor Derelict Finally Scuttled at Sea
The saga of the derelict fish processing vessel Akutan finally came to a close last week. On Thursday, the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley towed the Akutan to a site about three miles outside of U.S. territorial seas, where salvors from Resolve Marine scuttled her and cleaned up the remaining debris on the surface.
In early 2017, the 1944-built Akutan was hired to take on and process sockeye salmon from a consortium of fishing boats during the annual Bristol Bay opening, the biggest sockey run in the world. The trip was troubled from the start. A lender briefly seized the ship before she left Seattle, and her difficulties never abated. She lost an engine on the way north, requiring a stop for repairs, and she didn't arrive until the middle of the fishing season. After taking on her last cargo, she lay at anchor for weeks outside Dillingham while the owner, the fishermen and the owner's banker attempted to settle who owned the vessel and her cargo. The bank took responsibility to fly home most of her crew - who went unpaid except for a $500 one-time settlement and a plane ticket - and the Akutan's captain took the vessel to Dutch Harbor for repairs. On his arrival, he let the authorities know that it appeared that all relevant parties had abandoned the ship.
From that point forward, the Akutan became a waste disposal problem. Her frozen fish was found to be unfit for consumption and was taken to a landfill; the fishermens' consortium asserted that the Akutan's crew had soaked it in diesel, a claim that the captain disputed. Meanwhile, a Coast Guard-led team began the process of offloading potential pollutants, including “33,000 gallons of oil-water mixture, 12,400 gallons of diesel and other oils, 5,326 lbs of liquid ammonia, 14 drums of oil-contaminated solid waste, eight heavy-duty batteries and two 100-pound chlorine cylinders.”
In early January, the state of Alaska attempted to auction off the derelict ship, but it found no takers. At that point it took action under state law, as the Akutan posed an "emergency to life, property and the environment," given its abandoned state and its exposure to the harsh Bering Sea weather. The Coast Guard also declared the vessel an emergency and offered to tow her into international waters for sinking. The Unalaska City Council and Alaska's Department of Natural Resources split the cost of the scuttling.
“It is very rare for the State of Alaska to take custody of derelict and abandoned vessels. Our goal is for the responsible parties to remove these vessels from our public lands. However, the fishing vessel Akutan posed significant potential risks to the community of Unalaska, as demonstrated by the Coast Guard’s emergency declaration. We appreciate the efforts by the Coast Guard and the other state, federal and local agencies who worked with us in disposing of this vessel,” said State of Alaska DNR Commissioner Andy Mack.