PORTLAND, Ore. — Two abandoned ships now decorating the bottom of the Columbia River off Hayden Island are finally slated for removal, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Thursday.
For years, the decommissioned 125-foot Coast Guard cutter Alert and the 100-foot former Navy tugboat Sakarissa were moored near the Interstate Bridge along the north side of Hayden Island. They were purchased by the head of a local nonprofit to restore as a pet project, but they languished after his death and the nonprofit's dissolution.
At the end of October 2021, the Alert abruptly sank — significantly complicating any effort to finally dispose of the derelict vessel. Then the Sakarissa sank as well.
In August, the Oregon State Land Board requested $40 million in general funds to remove the hundreds of vessels littering Oregon's waterways after a succession of sunken ships and fuel spills. The Alert and the Sakarissa were at the top of the list.
Now USCG says that a plan is in place to begin removing the vessels as early as this month, thanks to an infusion of cash from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
“Even though the Coast Guard oversaw the removal of thousands of gallons of diesel and oily water from these vessels in 2020, they still pose a risk,” said Lt. Lisa Siebert, Incident Management Division supervisor at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River – Detachment Portland. “We have worked closely with our State and local partners to develop an integrated plan to remove these vessels and protect the public and the environment.”
As ship hulls deteriorate and water mixes with the oil-saturated ship interiors, the Coast Guard said that the sunken vessels have been producing a sheen on the river surface around them. They also pose a collision hazard for boats moving outside of the main navigation channel.
Early this month, USCG said, they'll begin dive assessments to figure out how best to raise the two vessels and take them out. Operations to actually pull them up will take place throughout the month.
“These plans are preliminary and we will continuously assess our plan and make adjustments if needed,” Siebert said. “Throughout this response, the safety of the public and responders will remain our top priority.”
Right now, USCG has $500,000 in funding per ship to complete the removal, but previous estimates for removing just the Alert put the amount at closer to $1 million.
While the removal project is going on, USCG said that the immediate area will be closed to the public.