POSTED JUNE, 2012
Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaclyn Young, National Strike Force Public Information Assist Team
It’s been four days and nine hours since the fishing vessel Lili’afao sank at its mooring in Pago Pago Harbor, and the Coast Guard responders on scene have grown indifferent to the rain showers that are common in American Samoa. They wipe their faces with wet sleeves, to no avail, and continue their work in spite of the warm, South Pacific rain.
Although the daily rain showers don’t usually impact life in American Samoa, an unusual near-constant downpour for two weeks contributed to sinking the Lili’afao, June 3, 2012.
A towboat brings the 80-foot fishing vessel Lili'afao to a pier in preparations for lightering operations Monday, June 11, 2012. The National Strike Force deployed to assist Marine Safety Detachment American Samoa with refloating the vessel and pollution control of an unknown amount of No. 2 diesel fuel and oil when the vessel sank on June 3, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaclyn Young.
The 80-foot, Mexican-flagged vessel sat neglected with an unknown amount of No. 2 diesel fuel and oil on board. Controlling the threat of pollution and preparing the derelict vessel for salvage was no easy task, and the small three-person team at Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment American Samoa called for assistance.
“This spill was different for us,” said Lt. Steve Caskey of the MSD. “Usually whenever it rains it comes down from rivers and washes into the harbor, and we get mystery sheen. When this boat sank it had rained for almost two weeks straight.”
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Hartmann, a machinery technician with the Atlantic Strike Team, conducts contractor monitoring during booming operations for the 80-foot fishing vessel Lili'afao in Pago Pago, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. The Mexican-flagged vessel began sinking on June 3, 2012 with an unknown amount of No. 2 diesel fuel and oil. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaclyn Young.
The National Strike Force deployed Petty Officer 2nd Class Austin West, with the Pacific Strike Team and Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Hartmann, with the Atlantic Strike Team to aid the MSD in this response. Petty Officer 1st Class Russell Strathern from Sector Honolulu was also part of the response team.
Together, these three traveled down to the end of time on the International Date Line to assist the MSD with the vessel, which was resting on the bottom of the harbor. Collectively, their mission was to provide contractor monitoring, booming expertise, site safety, and salvage oversight.
The first few days of the response the members focused on implementing strategic guidance offered from the Coast Guard’s Salvage Engineering Response Team. From there the NSF worked with the MSD and Sector Honolulu to develop plans to dewater the vessel, remove the fuel and oil that remained on board, and prepare the vessel for salvage.
A salvage job in the continental U.S. typically has the luxury of using vacuum trucks, response boats, containment boom, and oil spill removal organizations, all at the responder’s fingertips, said Caskey. However, American Samoa is a small island located so far away from any other U.S. state that resource availability is minimal.
“This was essentially a low-level response, but due to our lack of resources and permanent personnel this was more a medium sized response,” said Caskey. “Having sector and strike steam support available definitely helps us out in these situations.”
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Austin West, a machinery technician with the Pacific Strike Team, and Petty Officer 1st Class Russ Strathern, a marine science technician with Sector Honolulu, stack containment boom on a pier in Pago Pago, American Samoa Monday, June 11, 2012. The National Strike Force deployed to Pago Pago to assist the Marine Safety Detachment American Samoa with the sunken fishing vessel Lili'afao. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaclyn Young.
But rain and lack of resources did not slow the response. The overall goal was to safely stabilize the condition of the vessel and remove the threat of pollution to the navigable waterway. This was done patiently and during sweeping bouts of rain.
“The rain didn’t stop any work; we just keep on with operations, with safety as the highest priority,” said Strathern.
In total it was estimated that approximately three to four hundred gallons of oily water was released into the harbor.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Austin West, a machinery technician with the Pacific Strike Team, conducts a clear and bright test during dewatering operations on the 80-foot fishing vessel Lili'afao in Pago Pago, American Samoa Monday, June 11, 2012. The Mexican-flagged vessel began sinking on June 3, 2012 with an unknown amount of No. 2 diesel fuel and oil. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaclyn Young.
“The state of the vessel when we arrived had the potential of fully capsizing,” said Strathern. “If it weren’t for all of the expertise provided and great team work from everyone, all pollutants could have spilled in the water and the vessel could have become a serious hazard to the boating community and marine wildlife.”
Contractors raised the vessel six days into the response, and strike team members could now move freely among compartments and identify areas where fuel and oil remained. All Coast Guard responders on scene worked closely each day with the contract clean up company to minimize pollution.
“I think we did extremely well mitigating the threat and minimizing the discharge,” said Strathern. “We had zero injuries, and the negative impact to the harbor was small, but the best part about this response was the willingness and positive attitude of all parties involved.”
“The World’s Best Responders: Any Time, Any Place, Any Hazard.”