Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer on Friday was out on his boat when he saw something that didn’t look familiar within an area he had been to many times.
Mercer happened upon a 60-foot fishing vessel with three people aboard that had run aground on Favorite Reef near Juneau.
“I saw a white object that didn’t look like it was supposed to be there because I had passed it many times before and as I got closer I could see it was a pretty large wood hull vessel that looked like it was pretty much aground on the reef there,” Mercer said.
He said when he first approached the boat it appeared as though no one was still on board. Seeing how close they were to town, Mercer said he contacted Juneau Police command center to see if anyone had called in about the situation and while doing so, Mercer said that’s when one of the passengers called out to him for help.
“He (the passenger) told me they had run aground the night before and ultimately their hope was that they were able to get off the reef. It was calm so I was able to hear them and I was probably a couple hundred yards out away from them,” Mercer said. “I asked him if he had called the Coast Guard and he said that he had and that they had been trying to stay in contact with the Coast Guard. It was about that time that I received a call back from JPD telling me that the Coast Guard had been talking with the boat and that they had three people on board that needed assistance.”
Mercer confirmed there were three adults on board the boat, two men and one woman, all in good health under the circumstances, according to Mercer. However, one of the passengers was seeking medical attention in Juneau for a personal health matter, which is why the vessel was said to be en route for Juneau to begin with. Mercer said that while he wasn’t sure where they were from, he could confirm that the vessel displayed Washington numbers on it.
“They were all coherent and able to function and walk on their own, so it wasn’t like there was an immediate emergency with them; it seemed like they were doing as well as could be under the circumstances,” Mercer said. “I’m not sure where they were coming from, I just know that they were trying to get to Juneau because one of the individuals on the boat was seeking medical help of some kind in Juneau, but it seemed personal and not life threatening, so I didn’t ask further questions.”
According to Mercer, the wreck was an accident after the boat had been navigated onto the wrong side of the reef thinking that it was a passage. Mercer said that the reason he suspects they had been stuck on the reef over Thursday night and were struggling to receive help was because the passengers weren’t fully aware of their location.
“Sounded like they were talking with the Coast Guard but they were having a difficult time to really relay where they were,” Mercer said. “The reason I know that is because the individual that I first made contact with, when he stuck his head out of the door, I told him that they were at Favorite Reef.”
Though Coast Guard Sector Juneau sent out a boat for rescue, it was determined to not be needed by the time they arrived because Mercer had safely escorted them to Don D. Statter Harbor in Auke Bay where they were met by the Coast Guard to get checked out.
Once it was understood that the passengers were safe, attention was then back to environmental concerns according to Petty Officer 1st Class Ali Blackburn, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard.
“We work in conjunction with the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, so they are also aware of the situation,” Blackburn said. “We always work with partner agencies who help mitigate any impact to the environment, but we initially responded with a station Juneau response boat because there were three people aboard the vessel during the initial call, but those three people were recovered safely by Juneau Police Chief, so the Coast Guard didn’t have any involvement.”
According to Blackburn, there was no sheening observed and the area is being monitored by the Coast Guard in the event of an oil leak, but so far nothing has been observed as far as impact to the environment at this time. Blackburn also said there was approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel oil onboard the vessel. A commercial salvage company, Melinos Marine Service, was on the scene on Saturday and Sunday, and they were able to remove the gasoline and the hazardous materials on the vessel. Defueling was expected Tuesday or Wednesday. Blackburn said that according to Melinos Marine Service, the vessel is currently wedged on the reef and will not be dislodged.
“The Coast Guard is always monitoring in the event of a grounding or a potential discharge of oil or diesel. We always have strategies in place to monitor in the event that an oil spill does occur, we make sure the area is boomed off and contained in the event of a leak,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said that when Sector Juneau received the initial notification, the vessel was already aground. Blackburn added that Sector Juneau continues to monitor the ship and continues to work with the salvage company to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
“We have a Coast Guard Incident Management Division and that is the Coast Guard asset that is currently monitoring and working with the salvage company. We’re just monitoring the vessel and working with the salvage company to conduct operations in that regard,” Blackburn said. “I can confirm that no boom was put around the vessel because of its location on the rocks.”
Mercer said he was just happy he was in a position to help and hoped anyone would do the same if he were to ever find himself in a similar situation.
“I’m happy I was able to help somebody in need of assistance. I grew up in Southeast Alaska, so I know the dangers of being on the water and I just hope that if I’m ever in those types of circumstances that someone would be there to help me, as well, and certainly drop everything to help out,” Mercer said.
Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.