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Skipper escapes, boat sinks in predawn blaze near Shipyard Cove

A San Juan Island man scrambled into a skiff and escaped a predawn blaze that destroyed and sank his 27-foot boat Saturday morning near Friday Harbor's Shipyard Cove.

San Juan Island Fire Department Chief Steve Marler said the Fire Boat Confidence, manned by two firefighters, arrived alongside the burning fiberglass vessel and began battling the blaze at about 2:15 a.m., roughly 15 minutes after the department was notified of the fire.

Marler said the blaze was under control about 45 minutes after the Confidence arrived at the scene, but too much damage had been done for the Caliph V, owned by San Juan Island's Scott Forbes, to stay afloat. It sank in about 40 feet of water.

"It appeared to the guys that the boat was going down even after they put the fire out," Marler said. "The remains of the boat were sinking around the time they were leaving the scene."

At this point, the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, according to U.S. Coast Guard petty officer David Whitlock.

"The owner didn't seem to really know and we're still looking into that," Whitlock said. "The main thing we were looking out for was any pollution and preventing it from spreading if there was."

Whitlock described the amount of fuel that emerged from the boat as "minimal". About 10 gallons of diesel fuel were reportedly onboard the Caliph V at the time it sank.

Members of Islands Oil Spill Association were alerted about the boat fire at about 3 a.m. and remained on standby in the event an oil spill, according to IOSA spokeswoman Jackie Wolf.

At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard, two members of the IOSA team surveyed the area shortly after sunrise Saturday, noticed a fuel sheen in the area of the sunken boat, but determined none would be recoverable. Small amounts of fuel bubbled on the surface once every minute or two, but were also unrecoverable in spite of the use of absorbent pads, Wolf noted in a prepared statement.

"The Coast Guard gave (the owner) the option to hire someone to do it, or to handle it himself," Wolf said. "The owner was able to obtain 100 feet of boom, which he deployed around the area where the boat sank."

The oil spill prevention boom was still in place as of mid-afternoon Tuesday. According to IOSA's Wolf, the Coast Guard is monitoring efforts of the owner to handle the situation on his own.

The Coast Guard's Whitlock said the owner of the boat intends to "salvage" it at some future date, but that its salvage or removal from the depths of the cove is, "not a requirement for us."

— Scott Rasmussen

 

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