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Tanker Adrift Off Washington

Shipping: Condemned oil vessel breaks free of tug. There's a slight chance it will hit land.

November 23, 2001|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — A tanker carrying about 20,000 gallons of fuel was drifting in rough seas about 60 miles off the southern Washington coast Thursday after breaking its tether to a tugboat.

The U.S. Coast Guard said there was a slight danger the 906-foot Atigun Pass would be blown ashore in the next few days. Winds carried the ship north and slightly farther out to sea at about 1 mile per hour, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Amy Gaskill.

"The worst-case scenario is it makes landfall," she said.

The tanker was being towed from Portland to Shanghai to be made into scrap metal. A steel cable connecting it to a Chinese tugboat snapped Tuesday morning in a storm.

The shipping agent, Netherlands-based Smit International, dispatched a crew of six people on a helicopter to rappel onto the storm-tossed boat Thursday evening. The operation was complicated by swells of about 18 feet and winds of up to 25 mph.

Bobbing in the high waves, the crew of the Chinese tugboat struggled but failed Tuesday and Wednesday to grab a nylon rope tied to the steel tow cable.

Another tugboat, the Barbara Foss, retrieved the line Thursday, but it broke. That left the steel cable dangling over the side of the tanker and deep into the water.

Gaskill said the Barbara Foss would try to maneuver close to the tanker despite rough seas and hook the cable.

The Atigun Pass, a single-hulled tanker condemned as unsafe by the Oil Protection Act of 1990, had been docked in Portland's harbor since 1995, Gaskill said.

The 20,000 gallons of fuel oil were caked into a tar-like paste on one of the ship's tanks and couldn't be pumped out before the cross-Pacific journey, she said.

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