NOAA Roles in Response to Sunken and Derelict Vessels
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NOAA Roles in Response to Sunken and Derelict Vessels Doug Helton. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration. Presentation Summary. NOAA Roles and Concerns Threats from Wrecks NOAA Databases Response to Threats

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NOAA Roles in Response to Sunken and Derelict Vessels

Doug Helton

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration

Presentation Summary

  • NOAA Roles and Concerns

  • Threats from Wrecks

  • NOAA Databases

  • Response to Threats

  • Wrecks vs. abandoned vessels


  • Salvage

    • When a vessel or cargo has residual value.

    • Removal incentive

  • Wreck Removal

    • When vessel or debris has no significant value.

    • Contract removal

  • Abandonment

NOAA interests in shipwrecks

  • National Marine Sanctuary Program

  • Office of Coast Survey

  • Office of Ocean Exploration

  • Office of Response and Restoration

Threats from wrecks

  • Oil pollution and Hazardous Cargoes

  • Smothering from vessel/debris

  • Chronic source of debris

  • Navigational obstruction

  • Trawl and navigation obstruction

  • Physical destruction of habitats

  • Illegal dump sites

  • Nutrient enrichment

  • Entrapment and Safety Hazard

Oil Pollution from Wrecks

Hurricane Katrina Salvage and Wreck Removal, 2005

1944: the M/V Empire Knight ran aground on Boon Island Ledge, ME. The vessel was carrying a mixed cargo, including mercury

1987: The Pac Baroness sank off Pt Conception, CA. The vessel was carrying 280,000 gallons of fuel and 21,000 tons of powdered copper

Hazardous Cargo:

Threats to Navigation

Habitat Threats

M/V Clipper Lasco Grounding, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 2006

Wildlife Entrapment

  • F/V Paradise Queen, Kure Atoll, NWHI

  • Entrapment of endangered monk seals

Human Health and Safety

Public Safety

F/V Van Loi, Kauai

Oil, debris, and fishing gear spread along hotel beach

Visual eyesore and loss of tourism

Source of Marine Debris

  • Vessels can be a significant source of marine debris and in some situations can become debris themselves

  • Vessel debris following Hurricane Katrina

Empire, Louisiana

Samala Photos

  • As vessel deteriorate, they become a source of debris

Illegal Dump Sites

  • M/V Kimton, Fajardo, Puerto Rico

    • Vessel used for illegal dumping of waste oils and explosives

  • Abandoned Barge, Louisiana. Potential dumping site

NOAA Databases

  • Abandoned Vessels (primarily affecting corals)

  • Automated Wrecks and Obstructions Information System (Navigation hazards)

  • Resources and Undersea Threats (historic and pollution)

Abandoned Smuggling Vessel, Guam, 2008


  • NOAA Coast Survey

  • Automated Wrecks and Obstructions Information System

Resources and Undersea Threats (RUST)NOAA Marine Sanctuaries Program

Historic Wrecks

  • 1953: The 468-foot freighter SS Jacob Luckenbach near entrance to Golden Gate, CA. Recent response efforts removed 85,000 gallons of bunker fuel.

  • 1941: The 440-foot tanker Montebello off the coast of San Luis Obispo, CA. The Montebello was carrying more than 75,000 barrels of crude oil

US Navy Sub S-5. Cape May NJ. 1920

Courtesy of the US Navy

Tanker “Bow Mariner” Offshore Virginia

Not all targets are vessels

Response to Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET)

Oil slick from the leak of Navy Special Fuel Oil from Mississinewa in Ulithi

Lagoon. Photograph courtesy of NOAA

Chehalis case history

USS Chehalis: Background

  • 311-foot US Navy Patapsco Class Gasoline Tanker

  • Commissioned December, 1944

  • Exploded and burned on October 7, 1949, while off-loading gasoline at Pago Pago Harbor on Tutuila Island.

  • 6 lives lost. Burned for 22 hours

  • Scuttled in 160 feet of water on October 8 near fuel terminal

  • Aviation and automotive gasoline cargo, diesel bunkers

  • 115,000 + gallons

  • 18,000 rounds of ammunition


  • Assessing and prioritizing wrecks

  • Establishing an effective response organization

  • Developing and implementing appropriate technical solutions

  • Environmental and historic compliance

  • Funding

Hypothetical Management Decision

Risk and Uncertainty

Feasibility and costs

Health and Safety

Probability and consequences if a spill occurs

Prioritizing wrecks for remediation


Trajectory and fate

Environmental and Historical compliance

Conclusions part 1.

  • Most wrecks are probably minor threats

  • Some may contain large amounts of oil

  • We need to conduct a thorough assessment and consideration of the environmental trade-offs.

  • NOAA is working with the USCG to prioritize vessels for further investigation

Vessels Still Afloat

  • Vessels that are not maintained but are still intact/floating.

  • While floating there is an opportunity to easily and cheaply remove them before sinking creates larger problems

F/V Mwaalil Saat

  • Survey in 2003

  • Sank in 2004 during Typhoon Tingting

  • Response costs in excess of $3.5 million

  • Other floating derelicts surveyed in 2003 sank in the same storm

  • When a vessel is “lost at sea” it isn’t really lost. It continues to pose a variety of threats

  • Abandoned and derelict vessels are a problem in all coastal areas

  • Few agencies have the funds and time to address the problem

  • [email protected]

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