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Massive Alaska quake eyed as cause for sunken ship’s leak

August 17, 2021 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A ship that sank off Kodiak Island four decades ago has started to leak diesel fuel, and a state official suspects ground shaking from last month’s massive magnitude 8.2 earthquake might be the reason.

The vessel sank in 1989 in Womens Bay, “and it’s been resting there since,” Jade Gamble, the state’s on-scene spill coordinator, told CoastAlaska.

The first reports of an oil sheen came in a week after the July 28 earthquake, the largest in the U.S. in the past half-century.

It’s not clear how much diesel fuel or other contaminants remain on the Saint Patrick

The 138-foot (42-meter) former scallop boat was hit by a rogue wave in November 1981 near Marmot Island. The crew of 12 abandoned ship; only two survived. The vessel eventually was towed to Womens Bay, where it later sank.

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“They’ve been able to minimize the leak,” Gamble said. “Our main goal is to ensure we don’t have some type of catastrophic release.”

An official at the Alaska Earthquake Center said it’s not clear if the quake is responsible for the ship’s leak, however. The epicenter was about 260 miles (420 kilometers) southwest of Womens Bay.

Despite its size, the quake didn’t cause serious damage or produce a major tsunami.

“Kodiak didn’t experience anything significant,” seismologist Natalia Ruppert said. “And this shipwreck being even farther away from the earthquake source, I guess it’s possible.”

There have been other major earthquakes that were much closer to Womens Bay that would have produced stronger ground shaking, Ruppert said.

“Maybe it was a cumulative effect of these multiple earthquakes that over the years kind of reached a critical stage — it’s just hard to tell,” she said.

The Coast Guard confirmed the sheen in an Aug. 6 flyover, and it said a contractor is on the scene assisting with the containment.

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund has been activated because the Saint Patrick doesn’t appear to have an owner, the Coast Guard said.