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Updates: Sunken Tugboat in Columbia River

This is the most current information about DEQ’s efforts to aid the 38-foot Tug Nova that sank in the Columbia River, approximately 10 miles upriver of the McNary Dam near Umatilla.

See current update.

Date of incident: Feb. 24, 2020
Location: Columbia River, approx. 10 miles east of Umatilla
Product: Diesel fuel, lubricating oil
Cause: Tug sank after breaking loose of moorings in high winds
Unified Command: Oregon DEQ, Washington DOE, U.S. EPA, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, HME Construction (the tugboat owner)

Status updates

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

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

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.

Tug Nova by the numbers:

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

Feb. 26, 2020, 11 a.m.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

Read the news full release here.

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

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

Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting but is subject to change as new information becomes available.

Media contact

Laura Gleim, DEQ public affairs specialist, 503-577-3697,