March 2017. Under Water

2 June update...on 26 May, the Washington Department of Ecology posted this update on their Facebook page: "Our crews continue to monitor the vessel HERO near Bay Center that sunk in March. We're not seeing an oil sheen and there doesn't appear to be a diesel fuel odor. Crews will be on site over the weekend taking water samples and photos for investigation and enforcement purposes. The HERO is a former Antarctic research vessel." Also, here's a 27 March Chinook Observer article I missed, with the interesting title "Whale of a problem: 600,000-pound wreck leaves agency pondering 'whimsical' salvage options". I have not heard any other recent news.

27 March update: The State of Washington Department of Ecology continued to post updates through 27 March, with photos, but these are no longer online. My 27 March updates are below...including the Oregon Public Broadcasting report for which I was interviewed.

The HERO on the bottom
The R/V Hero sank at its dock off Bay Center, Washington, on 4 March 2017. This is in the estuary of the South Fork
of the Palix River, in Willapa Bay, east of the Long Beach Peninsula, and 40 miles north of Astoria, Oregon and the Columbia River. This is near significant oyster farming areas.
this used to be an Antarctic research vessel
the HERO under water

Above, two more views, looking at the starboard bow. The four photos at the top of this page were taken on Sunday, 5 March. So what happened? Who knows. For some time now, pumps have been required to keep it afloat. Bay Center, Washington received more than three inches of rain between Thursday and Sunday, something not at all unusual for this time of year. And the overnight temperatures were just above freezing over the weekend, as is evident from the bit of snow on the ground. Obviously the pumps didn't do their job...did they fail? Did they freeze up? Or did the leaks suddenly increase? Too early to tell.

closer view
Another view. This was actually the first photo that I saw.

The news timeline: at 1248 local time on Saturday 4 March, the Pacific County Emergency Management Agency (PCEMA) was notified that the Hero was sinking. An initial inspection by the National Response Center reported that there was no petroleum release. On Sunday, they made a second report of an oil sheen. Department of Ecology (DOE) and Coast Guard (USCG) personnel responded, confirmed the spill, and determined that it would not be practical to place a boom around the ship. The vessel had been last inspected by the DOE in 2013; at that time it was determined that there were 25 gallons of lubricating oil and 5 gallons of diesel on board.

Late on Monday 6 March, the USCG opened their Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for $25,000 and hired the Seattle firm Global Diving and Salvage to remove the petroleum products from the Hero. They went to work on Tuesday morning 7 March. After determining that the tides, currents, and vessel instability made it impossible to put divers in the water, they plugged or sealed the various tanks and removed about 70 gallons of diesel fuel and lube oil, and deployed sorbent booms and pads around the vessel to contain any remaining oil. Due to worsening weather, they had to cease work at 1500, but work resumed on Wednesday 8 January.

Department of Ecology spokesperson Shawn Zaniewski said that the owners of the boat could face fines, but also that "...there is some dispute on exactly who owns it."

Monday 27 March updates:

The DOE reported that Global Diving and Salvage was back on site on 27 March...they replaced absorbent pads, and also noted that a significant amount of river mud was infiltrating the vessel, making the pads less effective.

Also, I was interviewed on 22 March by Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Molly Solomon. She also traveled to Bay Center and spoke with some of the locals. Her report was posted on 27 March, here, with photos and audio.

Saturday 18 March updates:

Late last week (9-10 March), the responders had located a diagram of the boat, and a vacuum truck was used to remove 1000 gallons of oily water from the port side fuel tanks and other midship areas. Saturated absorbent pads continue to be removed and replaced. On Monday 13 March, the Coast Guard turned over the management of recovery efforts to the DOE, although they could become involved again if conditions change. On 15 March, Global Diving & Salvage returned, again replaced absorbents, and accessed a bow storage area where additional petroleum product was removed. Absorbent boom was also placed at the dock of Bay Center Oyster Farms, downstream of the Hero. On Friday 17 March, further inspections were made...a faint petroleum odor and a light sheen was present, the shoreline near the dock is visibly impacted by the spill, but no oil was present in the midship area. Global Diving & Salvage was to return on Monday to check, remove and replace absorbents.

Otherwise, efforts continue to resolve apparent confusion regarding the ownership of the vessel. The state will likely try to remove Hero from the water at some point, but the DNR Derelict Vessel program is significantly backlogged, and its current budget has been exhausted.

I was interviewed by Kirk Moore, an editor for Workboat magazine, for this 16 March 2017 blog post.

Also of interest, this 14 March Chinook Observer article, "Hero cleanup more complex than anticipated."

Friday 10 March updates:

March 2017 archive from the Pacific County Sheriff's Office and the PCEMA:

-A boom has not been placed because the current is quite fast and changes direction with the tides ...
-Activity at the site is driven by tidal conditions. Additionally, attempts continue to determine ownership...
-The ship is too damaged to refloat. Removal costs could approach $1 million. Funding is being sought...
-The diesel fuel sheening will continue as long as the vessel remains in the tank cannot be safely accessed...

From the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) (pages no longer online):

-A dive team will attempt to access the vessel's port tanks today, after a diagram was located that details their position...
-As the tide went out, additional recoverable fuel was located, and a vacuum truck was hired to recover it...
-New absorbent booms were deployed midship...previous absorbents were recovered, they were saturated with petroleum...

Other info--the State of Washington has obtained the vessel's stability plan, which has been provided to the contractor; this will assist the workers in identifying access to the remaining fuel tanks. The work schedule is based on the tides...low tide was to be at about 1800 local time Friday. Additionally, I've put the contractor in contact with an employee of the Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol, ME (successor company to the Hero's builder), who may be able to provide additional details of the vessel's construction.

Thursday 9 March update: I understand that the Coast Guard and the contractor Global Diving and Salvage are putting together information concerning options for the renewal of the hull.

PCEMA director and DOE spill responder assess developments
PCEMA Director Scott McDougall and DOE Spill Responder Andrea Unger
assessing the developments at the scene on 9 March (PCEMA photo)

Below, a link to 6 March drone video footage shared by Willapa Harbor Drones:
Willapa Harbor Drone video of the Hero
This video clearly shows the sheen of leaking diesel fuel.

Below, some photos from the Washington Department of Ecology, shared from their detailed update (no longer online). The first six photos are from 7 March.

HERO location map
A location map of the Hero.
view from the support vessel
The view from the support vessel.
work crew and Coast Guard personnel on board
Work crew and Coast Guard personnel go aboard.
the oil sheen
Pointing out the oil sheen...
the oil sheen
...and a closer look.
the stern as seen from the workboat
A sad view of the stern at low tide.

diver in the water
Diver in the water (10 March).
the sheen downstream
The sheen visible from downstream (13 March).
midships at high tide
Midships at high tide (13 March)...
midships at low tide
...and at low tide (17 March).
the stern at low tide
The stern at low tide (17 March).
the sheen on shore

The oil sheen onshore near the vessel (17 March).

Here are more news links:

First, this 7 March KING 5 (Seattle TV station) news report, which includes three videos. The second video on the page is the interview with Department of Ecology spokesperson Shawn Zaniewski, quoted above as saying "...there is some dispute on exactly who owns [the vessel]."

Next...a 7 March article in the Long Beach, WA newspaper Chinook Observer which includes a few photos and a bit of commentary on the history of the Hero.

Here's an 8 March web page from the Pacific County Sheriff's Office.

Also, this interesting 8 March blog post from

The first four photos on this page are from Taci Reneč Diane Madsen...the fourth photo is from Stephen Salley, taken by his sister Joanne Jambor. Also note that the Washington DOE photos are subject to this Creative Commons license.

Next, my photos of the Hero from my November 2018 visit.