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caption: A diver with Global Diving & Salvage cuts away fishing nets still attached to the fishing vessel Aleutian Isle, 240 feet beneath Haro Strait, on Sept. 1.
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A diver with Global Diving & Salvage cuts away fishing nets still attached to the fishing vessel Aleutian Isle, 240 feet beneath Haro Strait, on Sept. 1.
Credit: U.S. Coast Guard / Global Diving & Salvage

Sunken fishing boat ready to resurface after 5 weeks on sea floor

Coast Guard officials say a salvage team is ready to lift the Aleutian Isle off the sea floor near San Juan Island on Saturday.

The commercial fishing boat sank nearly five weeks ago while participating in a tribal fishery for sockeye salmon.

It left a sheen of diesel fuel two miles long in prime habitat for the region’s endangered orcas.

Emergency officials say divers have plugged up the boat’s fuel tanks, but they expect some pockets of diesel will escape as a floating crane hauls the boat more than 200 feet to the surface.

“We do expect some sheening, and we are prepared for a lot of release, but we don’t anticipate that,” said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Valerie Higdon.

More than a mile of oil-absorbent floating boom is in place along San Juan Island’s west shore, and more is being installed around the crane barge.

Specialists are on standby to start banging pipes underwater and scare away any endangered whales that come close to the potentially oily operation.

Divers have been limited to working 30 minutes at a time by the extreme depth and dangerous currents, according to the San Juan County Emergency Management. Now they await safe conditions (weak currents) for lifting.

Safe windows for the work are expected around 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, according to the Coast Guard.

Why the Aleutian Isle sank is still under investigation. KUOW learned that the boat built in 1974 had apparently run aground in Anacortes on Aug. 12, about 24 hours before it sank.

A marine surveyor found the boat, valued at $710,000, to be in average to above average condition and "well maintained" in December 2020, according to inspection records obtained from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife under a public records request.

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