Beached boat causes concerns in Half Moon Bay

January 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The U.S. Coast Guard and the California Dept. of Fish & Game have assembled at Half Moon Bay State Park and Beach to begin efforts to remove a 65-foot commercial fishing boat that ran aground about 1 a.m. All three people on board got off safely. However, the vessel has a 2,000-gallon fuel tank, and there is concern it could rupture and spill diesel, potentially harming wildlife and spoiling one of the region's favorite swimming and surfing spots.

The 65-foot commercial fishing boat washed ashore shortly after midnight. The captain and two crew members evacuated safely, leaving behind 5,000 pounds of crab.

The "Phyllis J" had been at sea for the past two days. As heavy surf pounded and rocked the boat, officials were concerned the 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board might spill, creating an environmental hazard.

"We could have birds that are in the area, could fly into the diesel. It could coat their wings and they could die of hypothermia. We've got high tides here, there's a lot of action, so it'd probably dissipate pretty quickly, and that's not as bad as if it were to stay in one spot," Carol Singleton from the California Dept. of Fish & Game said.

The Phyllis J did not leak any fuel, although state park rangers barred swimming and surfing as a precaution. Park visitors got to see the Coast Guard, divers and salvage teams as they devised an action plan.

"Our first plan of attack is to stabilize the vessel and determine the exact condition of the vessel -- whether it's seaworthy or not. If it's seaworthy, then we might try to tow it out to sea. If it's not, we'll probably try to pull it back into shore. Either way, we'll try to get the fuel off in as safe a manner as possible," Lt. JG Laura Williams from the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Crews had the benefit of clear conditions, low tide and plenty of daylight to assess the vessel's integrity. After divers checked the hull, a decision was made to remove sand from the beached boat and pull the stern in. Berms will be built on either side to secure the Phyllis J from the surf and the next high tide.

"We were concerned that the tides and the currents could break up this vessel. Luckily, it's a steel-hulled vessel so it's remained intact despite quite a beating," Singleton said.

If all goes as planned, the Phyllis J eventually will return to home port at Pillar Point a short distance to the north.