Updates: Sunken Tugboat in Columbia River

At around 9:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, the 38-foot Tug Nova was discovered sunken in the Columbia River, approximately 10 miles upriver of the McNary Dam near Umatilla. 

During the night, the vessel broke loose from its moorings due to high winds. Those winds pushed it about three-quarters of a mile where it sank. The vessel was holding 750 gallons of diesel fuel and approximately 50 gallons of lubricating oil when it went down.

A Unified Command is overseeing the response and is comprised of representatives from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the tugboat owner, HME Construction.

Tug Nova sank approximately 10 miles upriver of the McNary Dam, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020

Tug Nova was lifted safely from the river this evening, after an entire day of on-water operations.

Tug Nova was lifted safely from the river and secured on a barge for transport to a Vancouver shipyard.

The 750 gallons of diesel remained contained inside the tug’s fuel tank. About a gallon of a heavy oil released inside the containment area during crane operations, and was quickly removed from the water with absorbent booms.

Crews deployed a second layer of containment boom around the tug site Thursday as a precaution.

Tug Nova by the numbers:

  • 750 gallons of diesel fuel inside fuel tank and about 50 gallons of lubricating oil.
  • 30-50 mph winds when tug broke away from mooring.
  • 0 injured, 0 on board when tug floated away.
  • 0 known impacts to fish or wildlife.
  • 3 environmental agencies, 1 tribal government, 1 business owner overseeing operations.
  • 50+ responders on site.
  • 3 locations with containment boom: around tug, upriver, downriver.
  • 3 oils spill response vessels on-water during tug removal.

Huge thanks to all the responders who worked tirelessly these past several days to bring Tug Nova out of the Columbia River safely.

Unified Command, from left to right: Joshua McCoy, HME Construction; Mike Boykin, U.S. EPA; Jamie Collins, Oregon DEQ; David Byers, Washington DOE; Wil Badonie, Yakama Nation.

11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

The current estimate on pulling the tug from the river is midday tomorrow, contingent on the barge and crane arriving on time and all going as planned. It will take several hours to pull the tug from the water. The tug’s fuel tank is secured within the engine room, and risk of fuel release is unlikely.

Responders will have an abundance of precautionary measures in place during the tugboat removal. This includes containment boom deployed at strategic locations in accordance with Geographic Response Plans and response vessels standing by.

Unified Command continues working closely with cultural resource trustees to ensure any cultural resources that may be in the area are not inadvertently disturbed.

Responders staged precautionary containment boom up and downriver of the sunken tug on Wednesday.

2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020

Responders are maintaining containment booms around the tug, implementing plans to protect fish, wildlife, human health and other cultural and environmental resources both up and downriver of the sunken vessel, and staging the area to bring in a barge and crane tomorrow or on Thursday.

A light sheen is present on the river’s surface, which has been contained inside the boom currently deployed around the sunken vessel. Responders are recovering as much of the oil sheen as possible using sorbent pads.

The sunken tug has a 3-foot rupture in its hull, but the rupture has not affected any of the vessel’s fuel tanks. The rupture is presumed to be the result of damage the vessel sustained when it broke free of its moorings on Sunday night in heavy winds.

Tomorrow or Thursday, depending on arrival time of the barge and crane, responders plan to lift the tug off the river bottom with a crane, then load it onto the barge for transport back to a Vancouver shipyard for repairs.

There have been no reports of impacts to wildlife.

Unified Command is working closely with cultural resource trustees, including the the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, to develop a salvage plan that will prevent any disturbance of cultural resources that may be on the river bottom or in the area.

Responders are conducting water sampling near the sunken vessel and approximately 10 miles downriver at the site of the City of Hermiston’s public water supply intake. There are no concerns of contamination at this time.

Responders have deployed 1,500 feet of boom in support of three pre-determined protection strategies; an additional 5,000 feet of hard boom is en route to the incident location and can be deployed if needed. Finally, 400 feet of boom is in place around the sunken vessel itself and approximately 500 feet of boom will be pre-staged as a precaution at the City of Hermiston public water supply intake, about 10 miles downstream of the incident location.

Responders worked into the night Monday to deploy containment boom around the sunken tugboat.

6:00 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020

Divers covered the Nova’s fuel vents this afternoon and the vessel is not actively leaking. The tugboat reportedly has about 750 gallons of diesel on board and is completely submerged.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are overseeing operations and investigating to determine if any fuel has been released. Responders are deploying containment boom this afternoon and evening around the tugboat.

A crane is scheduled to arrive on site Wednesday to lift the vessel out of the water.

Responders suspect the tugboat broke loose from its mooring Sunday night due to strong winds, which pushed it about three-quarters of a mile upriver. There was no one on board when the vessel began drifting. The tugboat is called Tug Nova and is owned by HME Construction.

Read the news full release here.


12:00 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020

State and federal agencies are responding to a sunken 38-foot tugboat on the Oregon side of the Columbia River about 10 miles upriver of McNary Dam near Umatilla.

Oregon DEQ, Washington Ecology and EPA are coordinating with fish and wildlife agencies and tribal governments on the response.

tug
Responders deploy containment boom around the sunken tugboat to capture any potential fuel release.

—Laura Gleim, Oregon DEQ public affairs specialist, 503-577-3697, gleim.laura@deq.state.or.us

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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