Category Archives: Spill Response Stories

IOSA responds to boat fire at Roche Harbor Marina

July 10 & 11, 2013

Summary of tasks completed:

  • Nineteen IOSA responders worked on site and one dispatcher completed call-outs.
  • Set oil containment boom in accordance with Washington States Geographic Response Plan Strategy (GRP).
  • IOSA oil containment boom was initially set around the burning vessel by the Roche Harbor marina staff, then IOSA responders set boom around an expanded area.  Also a  double layer of boom was placed around the vessel (to help in catching all the oil that escaped from the boat).  Nearby slips were lined by boom (again to keep the oil from escaping into the rest of the Marina).
  • On the second day the boom was reset to allow vessels coming in to Roche Harbor to use nearby slips.  IOSA responders transferred boom downwind for an additional oil collection area.
  • Responders recovered oil and oiled debris from within the boom over two days.
  • A staging area for oiled debris was set up above the dock area.
  • 214 bags of oiled sorbents, 26 bags of oiled debris and seven bags of other items were collected at the staging area and transported off site to be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection site.
  • After the clean-up in the water was completed, the 1900′ of oiled IOSA boom was cleaned.  All equipment and containment boom used was transported back to trailers and staging locations, in order to be ready for use  when needed.



How San Juan County would respond to an oil spill

Posted 05/14/10 on the San Juan Islander website in response to inquiries during the Gulf of Mexico BP oil rig disaster.


The recent oil rig disaster and subsequent endless flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico has once again raised the horrifying specter of a really big oil spill here in our own precious part of the world. Sitting as we do right in the middle of major shipping lanes, islanders pay close attention when a spill such as the Exxon-Valdez occurs and now the pouring of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

What many islanders are discovering as a result of this latest disaster is that, thanks to the awareness of so many of us, and the incredible spirit of commitment to protect this place, our own local oil spill response organization already exists. It is non-profit and community-based, with over 300 island residents throughout the years who have taken the training that is freely offered several times a year in the islands by Islands’ Oil Spill Association, the only spill response group in the San Juans.

Nine thousand four hundred feet of IOSA-owned containment boom (plus another 4000′ which IOSA manages) is ready for immediate use in the event of a spill. The boom is spread between 11 locations, all within five minutes of a launch site, which allows quick access to boom in all corners of the islands.

IOSA has six dedicated spill response vessels and we work with many trained responders who have their own workboats. Equipment trailers containing anchor systems, sorbents, pumps, skimmers and other gear are stationed at strategic locations throughout the islands, including the outlying islands of Stuart and Sucia.

Nearly 130 IOSA responders are also trained and have their state-required eight-hour certification for Oiled Bird Search & Rescue, Basic Care and Stabilization. At least 20 of these responders have put their name on the list to work down along the Gulf Coast if needed. As of this date, May 13, oiled wildlife responders from outside the region are not yet being asked to help but the situation is ever-changing.

In addition to classroom training, IOSA holds five to six on-the-water boom deployment/containment drills a year. IOSA crews have completed 68 site-specific field tests of protective booming strategies for sensitive areas/bays in the San Juan Islands and installed rock anchors in many locations where no other suitable shore attachment exists. Ongoing training keeps us prepared and allows responders to update their certification on a regular basis. It also allows new people to get involved in local oil spill response.

If you would like more information on our own community’s preparedness for a major oil spill, as well as the smaller spills that frequently happen and have required a full IOSA response over 100 times, please go to the IOSA website. Or call the IOSA office.

There are many ways you can help. Watching the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf, one of the many things I feel is a strong sense of gratitude for IOSA and all the people in the San Juans who make IOSA the wonderful organization that it is.

by Jackie Wolf, IOSA Coordinator


Wreck of the Esperanza

An Account of IOSA’s 100th Spill Cleanup
From IOSA’s Director, Julie Knight

Like many IOSA responses, our 100th containment/cleanup response depended on a collection of contributions from many people who have helped IOSA…over many years…which came together in one short period of time.

Aug. 29, 2007 – afternoon: the seiner Esperanza hits a large rock offshore from Eagle Point on the southwest side of San Juan Island and capsizes. The crew is safe,having been picked up by nearby seiners. The IOSA pager goes off.

5:30 pm: United State Coast Guard activates IOSA to contain the vessel and remove pollutants.

6:30 pm: IOSA’s 23’ landing craft is underway from Friday Harbor with two responders, and the Sea Goose, IOSA’s 45’ pontoon vessel, is underway from Shoal Bay with me and two other responders.  During past classes and drills these responders completed the safety training that is required by state and federal agencies before working in an oil spill environment, and so they were ready to go. One responder has picked up a boom trailer in Friday Harbor and tows it to False Bay, where a second responder meets him. They prepare to offload 700’ of oil containment boom and feed it down the hill to be handed off to our response vessel.

7:30 pm: the 23’ vessel stays with the wreck and our 45’ vessel goes to nearby False Bay, where there are three potential launch points for the boom. All these points had been located, with permission and directions acquired from property owners, many years ago, and use of these points was practiced during on-site drills.

Past experience saves us a lot of time: As we approach the first access point, we find that the tide is too low, so the water is too shallow to reach shore, and the trailer needs to be moved to a more obscure access point closer to the bay’s entrance. I am onboard the vessel, so am not much help to the shore crew, but I know that one of our shore responders has firsthand experience with this access point from a drill in the 90’s and the transition to the second access site will be smooth and safe. Shore responders meet up with the helpful manager at Mar Vista. One of our shore responders takes a few extra minutes to walk the route to the access point, making sure the trail is safe before driving in with the boom trailer (another example of responders’ natural safety consciousness, as well as training, in action).

We watch the boom being carefully pulled down the hill, over and around rocks and logs, responders aided by spotlights, and ultimately the line at the end of the boom is tossed out to us.  Experience gained during the recent False Bay drill, three months earlier and also during a low tide, helps reinforce our crew’s ability to maneuver around ‘areas to be avoided’ in this bay. The shore crew tosses the line out to us, and as they feed the rest of the boom down to the water, we tow the boom from the shore and then to open water for the quick trip…

…back to the wreck. On the surface, the water is calm and the full moon is rising. We point our spotlight down and look below the surface at the huge rock that the vessel is grounded on. We also see the 10’ long green blades that are growing around the rock pulled horizontal by the strong current below and then bending in different directions in response to shifting eddies swirling around the rock (we later learn these eddies are fairly common at this spot.)

After the safety assessment, we begin setting 700’ of boom to contain any petroleum or other hazardous materials released from the vessel. The many times we’ve practiced setting containment boom in a diamond configuration, during spills and drills, helps us to cope with setting the boom in this more challenging location where the tide intensity and direction changes frequently. I am glad to be in the company of our very competent vessel operators. We first set the lead anchor, following standard procedure for a containment diamond, and in 15 minutes the current direction has changed, so the lead anchor has become the side anchor.

In the time it takes to set all the anchors for a containment diamond, the tide has switched 180 degrees, so we continue  readjusting the boom. One of our responders describes our work as a constant dance between the tide and boom on one side and the boats towing the anchors on the other side.  Ultimately our patient and steady crew sets the containment boom in a functional diamond-shaped 
configuration around the vessel. Before we head back to shore, we spread oil-absorbent pads inside the boom.

Over the next two days, we remove oily sorbent pads, some floating garbage and containers of petroleum products, and 170 gallons of diesel contained in the Esperanza’s tanks is pumped by an experienced diving contractor who we often work with during spills. With the assistance of our crews, the fuel is stored in drums onboard and then unloaded by a shore crew at Jackson Beach and taken to an interim storage site until the slightly-contaminated fuel can be picked up for recycling by a mainland contractor.

We are very glad to have removed this petroleum within the first two days. With each day that the vessel is in the water on the exposed west side of San Juan Island, its condition deteriorates. Ultimately the vessel breaks up.  Several days after IOSA removes the fuel, the owner’s initial plans to raise the Esperanza are unsuccessful because the vessel’s weight was greater than anticipated and soon after that, the window of opportunity for raising it has passed.

One hundred seventy gallons can be a lot of fuel in the water in a sensitive area. One of the most memorable spills in the past 20 years involved only 30 gallons of diesel and green paint thinner that fell off a boat at a dock near shore. The spill was witnessed and we were contacted immediately, so two hours from the time it spilled, the cleanup was completed. The next morning I went back to check for more fuel that might have been submerged and washed in on the next tide. There wasn’t any fuel, but there were over 200 dead juvenile marine invertebrates that I found washed onto the shore…including crabs, shrimp, marine worms, limpets and others. In less than two hours, they had come into contact with the spilled toxins.  More of them may have sunk to the bottom or been eaten by predators.

So… on the bad side, we know that even “small spills” can be destructive. On the good side, we prevented these pollutants from staying in the water longer and causing even more damage.

Many thanks

To all of our past and present IOSA responders,

To community members who give their time and energy to work on special and ongoing projects,

To members who donate funds for equipment and training, 

To residents who provide access to shoreline, launch and view points.

Ruby Lily grounds off Patos Island

How IOSA helps prevent oil spills in the San Juan Islands

50' vessel grounded on Little Patos Island in June 2011. Photo by Andrew DiRienzo, Towline Marine Assist
50′ vessel grounded on Little Patos Island in June 2011. Photo by Andrew DiRienzo, Towline Marine Assist

Four thousand gallons of diesel was onboard the Ruby Lily when she ran aground on rocks south of Patos Island sometime after midnight on June 7, 2011.  Fortunately, only a tiny amount of fuel was leaking when IOSA was contacted in the wee hours of the morning by the United States Coast Guard & the Washington State Dept. of Ecology. By 8 am, the decision was made to have IOSA deploy containment boom around the vessel and arrangements were made to get equipment to the site to pump off as much fuel as possible while waiting for the late-night high tide to re-float the beautiful 50’ Ruby Lily.

Patos Island, northwest of Sucia Island, sits right at the intersection of Boundary Pass and the Strait of Georgia. Consequently, the area is subject to strong and constantly-changing currents, as well as wind and waves from all directions. IOSA Coordinators knew that this job called for responders who had a lot of training and experience working with spill response equipment in the difficult conditions that can be created by currents, wind and waves, all of which were a factor up on Little Patos that day.

IOSA’s main response vessel, the Sea Goose, left the dock at Shoal Bay that morning with 1000’ of containment boom (stationed on the boat at all times) and a crew of 4 very experienced IOSA responders. They deployed 500’ of containment boom around the grounded vessel and spent the day adjusting boom and re-setting anchors until Global Diving & Salvage arrived from the mainland with a truck that had the capacity to hold such a large amount of fuel. Towline Marine Assist from Friday Harbor had been hired to help get the boat off the rocks and the Island Transporter had the job of carrying Global’s truck and other equipment to the site.

With the strong currents and some heavy chop, it was tricky to get the barge up close enough to the Ruby Lily and keep it in position while fuel was pumped off the vessel into the tank truck on the barge. The boom also had to be opened up to accommodate the operation so responders kept a constant vigil on any potential leaking of fuel into the water. At one point mid-day, sheen was noticed around the vessel and it was discovered to be a small hole in the transducer, which was easily captured in a bucket. The tank full of diesel had not been compromised.

At 10 pm, 1500 gallons of diesel had been pumped off the boat and she began to float. IOSA responders were given the OK to pull boom and began heading back to Shoal Bay, where they arrived at 1:30 in the morning, a very tired but satisfied crew, knowing they had done an excellent job in difficult conditions. We want to thank them not only for the great job they did but also for the fact that each of them dropped what they were doing that morning and were willing and able to get their gear together and head out on the Sea Goose, with no idea how long the job would take but knowing they could handle whatever came up.