Drifting tanker towed away from Washington coastline

Saturday, November 24, 2001

PORTLAND, Ore. -- After struggling for three days against 30-foot storm swells and winds of more than 50 mph, salvage workers succeeded Friday in attaching a rope to a drifting crude oil tanker and began towing it.

Rough seas subsided and winds slackened enough to allow a helicopter to lower a six-person crew onto the deck of the 906-foot Atigun Pass, which had drifted to within 30 miles of the Washington coast Friday afternoon. The Coast Guard had feared it would hit land and begin leaking.

The workers attached a line to one of four tug boats helping with the recovery. The tugboat began gently pulling the tanker back out to sea, moving northwest offshore from Long Beach, Wash.

"Without the crew on there, we wouldn't have been able to do that," said Amy Gaskill, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

Crews planned to return to the tanker by helicopter Saturday to replace the rope with stronger steel cables. Workers will also decide Saturday whether to tow the tanker back to port to secure the cables.

The decommissioned tanker, which carried about 20,000 gallons of fuel oil, was being towed from Portland to Shanghai, China, to be carved up for scrap metal. A steel cable connecting it to a Chinese tug boat snapped Tuesday morning in a storm and by Friday the tanker was approaching the coast off the Oregon-Washington state line.

The single-hulled tanker, formerly operated by British Petroleum, was condemned as unsafe by the Oil Protection Act of 1990. It had been docked in Portland's harbor since 1995, Gaskill said.

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