U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Islands’ Oil Spill Association (IOSA) were deployed on Saturday, November 18th, 2023, to address the sinking of the 80-foot vessel EL CAPITAN at West Sound Marina on Orcas Island.
Watchstanders at Sector Puget Sound command center were alerted by West Sound Marina about the rapidly sinking vessel near the pier in roughly 30 feet of water, and a visible sheen was observed.
Coast Guard Pollution Responders promptly informed IOSA, who arrived at the scene and worked with the marina to deploy booms and absorbents. As a precautionary measure, IOSA brought several trailers loaded with additional boom supplies. The Washington Department of Ecology also responded to support IOSA’s efforts. Throughout the weekend, IOSA monitored the sinking vessel.
The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was activated by the U.S. Coast Guard, which contracted Global Diving and Salvage to inspect the vessel for potential pollution risks. Divers examined the vessel on Sunday and found no indications of oil discharge.
In addition to the vessel assessment, crews conducted a thorough shoreline evaluation and confirmed no observable impact to the shoreline or local wildlife. At the time of the incident, there were no sightings of Southern Resident Killer Whales in the vicinity.
As a precautionary measure, booms remained surrounding the vessel area. Monitoring by IOSA has been ongoing since the vessel sank to address any potential pollution threats. Recently, on November 26, IOSA reported the presence of sheening in the marina outside the containment boom. In response, the U.S. Coast Guard intervened, initiating an investigation and hired a contractor to replace soiled boom material.
The U.S. Coast Guard is actively investigating the origin of the sheen observed on November 26. Collaborative efforts involving multiple agencies, including the Washington Department of Natural Resources and West Sound Marina, are discerning what will happen to the vessel in the future.
“Previously, in November 2020, a joint effort between the Coast Guard, Washington Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and San Juan County determined the fuel and oil onboard the El Capitan posed a significant threat to the environment due to its derelict condition. Contractors removed 590 gallons of various fuels and oils,” the USCG said in a news release.