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Destroyed Vessel a Blow to Research

November 14, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT

A federally owned research vessel used in the Channel Islands was recently destroyed by a rough wave, and now officials are trying to determine what effect the loss may have on several studies and surveys.

Although there were clear skies and generally calm waves, the vessel Ballena (Spanish for "whale") capsized Nov. 4 about a quarter of a mile offshore from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, officials said Monday.

The 56-foot boat, owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and operated by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, was hit by a 15-foot wave that broke on top of it, officials said.

Three people aboard were briefly trapped but managed to free themselves and start swimming toward land. Crew member Mark Pickett has been credited with helping his colleagues reach shore.

Mike Murray, a National Oceanic spokesman, said the boat was not salvageable because most of it broke into pieces after being washed toward shore and slamming into a rocky cliff.

"The Coast Guard and other agencies are looking at the vessel with an eye toward any potential impacts to the marine environment," Murray said. It is so far unclear how much fuel spilled or what other problems may have occurred, he said.

It was also too soon to tell what effects the loss would have on fishery management discussions now underway. But officials conceded that the loss was significant.

The vessel, valued at more than $500,000, was the only one of its kind in the area and was equipped with navigation and scientific equipment used for several types of oceanographic studies, including rockfish studies, tide research and seabird surveys.

Matt Pickett, a National Oceanic spokesman and Mark Pickett's brother, said officials will make up for the loss by using smaller research boats already in the fleet, chartering larger vessels and scaling back research.

"We are evaluating our options," Matt Pickett said.

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