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State claims negligence, fines seafood company $112K in wake of oil spill

The Clam Digger, a 59-foot fishing boat owned by American Gold Seafoods, spilled 315 gallons of oil when it sank in Bellingham Channel, which separates Cypress and Guemes islands, in July, 2013.  - Contributed/Google Maps
The Clam Digger, a 59-foot fishing boat owned by American Gold Seafoods, spilled 315 gallons of oil when it sank in Bellingham Channel, which separates Cypress and Guemes islands, in July, 2013.
— image credit: Contributed/Google Maps

— Journal staff report

State officials cited negligence as a factor in imposing a $112,500 fine against an Anacortes-based seafood company, whose fishing boat accidentally sank in Bellingham Channel, near Guemes Island, a year ago in July.

Following investigation of the sinking of the Clam Digger, owned by American Gold Seafoods, the Washington state Department of Ecology determined negligence on the part of the company was responsible for 315 gallons of oil that was spilled into the channel during recovery of the 59-foot sunken boat.

“This spill was preventable,” said Dale Jensen, manager of Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program. “The Clam Digger was not adequately maintained, and not fit for its intended use that day.”

When the Clam Digger encountered high waves after it left Anacortes on July 10, began taking on water, and eventually sank. The company immediately initiated appropriate response protocols, according to Ecology, and six days later divers recovered the boat. However, during the recovery as much as 315 gallons of oil spilled.

The 59-foot boat reportedly was carrying 2,700 to 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the time it sank.

Bellingham Channel, located just north of Anacortes, between Guemes and Cypress islands, is home to seagrass and kelp. Pink and Chinook salmon were present in the area at the time of the spill, as were marbled murrelets, listed as threatened by the state and federal government.

Ecology’s investigators found uncovered, open or leaky deck hatches on the Clam Digger, which compromised its ability to stay watertight. In addition, modifications, including the installation of a 2,000-gallon double-walled portable diesel tank, caused the boat to ride lower in the water, making it susceptible to flooding, according to DOE.

There was no evidence of any oil reaching the shoreline.

Penalties issued by Ecology can be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Along with the $112,500 fine, Ecology billed American Gold Seafoods $9,796 to recoup cleanup costs and investigation work. The company paid an additional $13,844 to fund a shoreline restoration project in Anacortes in lieu of paying the same amount into a general fund for damage the spill caused to public resources.

 

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