BAY CENTER, Wash. – A sinking boat has shut down several shellfish companies on Willapa Bay.
A sheen, which the Department of Ecology said is likely oil and diesel, could be seen coming from the M/V Hero, which began sinking Saturday at its dock on Willapa Bay.
What caused the sinking is not known.
The priority for the state, and those in the shellfish industry, was to stop the leak.
“Our livelihood depends on that water staying clean,” said Eric Hall, director of Taylor Shellfish Company’s Willapa Bay operation.
Hall said his crews will stop harvesting oysters until the bay is clean again.
“We’re going to have to do some testing on our products just to see if they’ve ingested any of this and how well they clean out,” said Hall.
“We produce -- 1 in 3 oysters in the U.S. comes out of the 70,000 acres that encompass Willipa Bay and Bay Center here where this spill is, is a very important area,” said Brian Kingzett, biologist for the Goose Point Oyster company.
This area has farmed oysters since the 1840s. The industry works hard to keep it free from any threat. He said so far, oil leaking for the partly sunken ship has not contaminated the oysters. They eat by filtering out tiny bits of food from as much as 30 quarts of water per hour.
“The ability to produce these oysters is all about keeping this bay very pristine,” said Kingzett.
And the Hero is a threat. It’s a desolate and ironic ending for a once proud ship.
Launched back in 1968, she was owned by the National Science Foundation and heralded as a great tool for researching the environment.
Stationed in Antartica, she featured motors but also sails to quietly glide up on animals for study.
As her useful life came to a close, she ended up at Bay City on the Palix River leading to Willipa Bay.
Locals say the owner dreamed of turning it in to a bed and breakfast but that never happened.
Four years ago business owners like Kathleen Moncy, from Goose Point Oyster, began to worry.
“We're most concerned about the vessel starting to break apart,” she said.
She said regulators looked at the ship but decided there was nothing they could do. Saturday it sank and began leaking oil.
Tuesday the coast guard and a private contractor collected 70 gallons of diesel and a heavier lube oil.
“I would expect it to sheen for some time but anything that was recoverable, I believe we got,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Brad Bennett.
Visitors to the docks could easily see the sheen and smell the oil Wednesday afternoon.
It’s unclear what exactly happens next to the Hero.
Kathleen Moncy is left with frustration and questions.
“Why didn’t they listen to us years ago when we told them this boat was a hazard to be here?” she asked.