Old fuel-filled ships on Columbia River being emptied

Multnomah County

Authorities said they're removing the fuel to prevent a possible environmental disaster

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Authorities boarded two aging ships on the Columbia River on Tuesday with a mission: prevent a possible environmental disaster.

Multnomah County river patrol deputies, members of the Coast Guard and officials with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality teamed up to remove thousands of gallons of diesel fuel from the vessels.

Deputies said they noticed the vessels severely listing on the water west of the Interstate Bridge near Hayden Island. The vessels — an old tugboat named the Sakarissa and a former Coast Guard cutter launched in 1927 called the “Alert” — were privately owned but the owner passed away.

“I think it would probably be a wise decision to clear them out,” said Alicia Smith, who often stays with her grandpa on Hayden Island. She said the vessels have been tied at the same old dock for at least seven to 10 years. Smith worries the boats could spill their old fuel into the water, killing countless animals and jeopardizing residents’ health.

“It’s a danger, especially with all the people that live on this island — what could happen with our water source?” she said.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office estimated the vessels hold more than 8,500 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of lube oil between them.

“There is an estimated 2,500 gallons of red dye diesel in the bilge of the Sakarissa so that’s the potential damage as far as diesel fuel. There are also some containers of solvents in the engine room of the tug,” said Petty Officer Michael Clark with U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs. “

Authorities expect the removal process to take multiple days. An orange boom has been placed around the vessels to prevent any leakage during the removal process.

“Our efforts to prevent any damage to the environment are of the utmost importance,” Clark said.

The sheriff’s office said their dive teams may monitor the vessels’ hulls and make sure they remain intact as the fuel is removed.

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