SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Oil removed from 1950s Alaska shipwreck


June 21, 2010

Juneau, Alaska - The U.S. Coast Guard says it emptied about 110,000 gallons of bunker oil from the wreck of a one-time cruise ship that sank along the coast of Alaska in 1952.

The delicate operation off Lena Point defused a potential environmental time bomb in the form of oil stored in the deteriorating fuel tanks or trapped in the fragile hull of the Princess Kathleen, officials said.

"The importance for the removal of oil was extremely high due to the condition of the tanks," said Kerry Walsh, a project manager for Global Diving and Salvage. "Anything from a recreational diver to an earthquake could have caused the imbalance needed to rupture the pipes resulting in a major oil release."

The Princess Kathleen was a former cruise ship that had been used as a troop transport and belonged to Canadian Pacific Railway when it ran aground near Juneau and went down. The risk of a major release of heavy bunker C oil was known for several years but technology only recently advanced to the point that the oil could be salvaged.

"Remote operated vehicles allowed for us to get a visual of the deteriorating tanks and pipes to better strategize how we were going to remove the oil without taking the risk of sending our divers into unknown spaces," Walsh said in a written statement issued by the Coast Guard Thursday.

The salvage team, along with the Coast Guard and state officials, devised a plan in which the oil and water from the Princess Kathleen was heated and re-circulated between the sunken ship's fuel tanks and a barge on the surface. The result was the capture of pure oil and a minimal amount of contaminated water.

It took four months and about $12 million to complete the operation but Coast Guard officials said it would have been more costly to clean up the oil if the Princess Kathleen had sprung a major leak.



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