Two decades after the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, a tugboat working to prevent another oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound ran aground on the same reef and left a three-mile sheen of fuel oil on the water.
The Pathfinder had just finished checking for dangerous ice and was heading back to port in Valdez when it hit Bligh Reef.
The boat is part of the Ship Escort Response Vessel System created after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil – the worst US spill.
US Senator Mark Begich of Alaska said it was troubling that a spill response vessel “managed to run aground on one of the most well-marked and well-known reefs in the Northern Hemisphere”.
It was not immediately known how much spilled. The Coast Guard said two of its tanks – containing an estimated 33,500 gallons of diesel fuel – were damaged and there was a fuel sheen on the water about three miles long and 30 yards wide.
The tug reported the grounding at 6.15pm on Wednesday and by Thursday an oil response vessel arrived and began skimming the water near the sheen.
Coast Guard Lieutenant Erin Christensen said an estimate on how much fuel spilled could not be done until the fuel was offloaded to a barge today.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell had sharp words for Alaska’s oil industry, noting that there had been three “significant” recent spills in the Prudehoe Bay oil fields prior to Wednesday’s spill in the sound.
Parnell said: “The spills harm both Alaska’s environment and Alaska’s reputation for responsible resource development. I let the companies know this was not acceptable.”