$112,500 spill penalty follows accidental sinking

JULY 29, 2014 — American Gold Seafoods faces a $112,500 penalty for an oil spill caused by the accidental sinking of its vessel, the Clam Digger, in July 2013 near Anacortes.

The Washington Department of Ecology investigated the cause of the sinking and spill and determined that negligence was a key factor.

When the Clam Digger left Anacortes on July 10, the boat encountered high waves, began taking on water, and eventually sank. AGS immediately initiated appropriate response protocols. Divers recovered the boat six days later, but during the recovery efforts 315 gallons of oil spilled.

"This spill was preventable," said Dale Jensen, who manages the Department of Ecology's Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program. "The Clam Digger was not adequately maintained, and not fit for its intended use that day."

The department's investigation uncovered open or leaky deck hatches on the vessel, which compromised its ability to stay watertight. In addition, modifications including the installation of a 2,000-gallon double-walled portable diesel tank, caused the boat to ride lower in the water and made it susceptible to flooding.

The Clam Digger sank in Bellingham Channel, where seagrass and kelp grow. Pink and chinook salmon were present in the area, as well as marbled murrelets, a species classified as threatened by the state and federal government.

There was no evidence that any oil reached the shoreline.

Along with the $112,500 fine, the department billed AGS $9,796 to recoup the state's costs for cleanup and investigation work. In addition, the company paid $13,844 to fund a shoreline restoration project in Anacortes in lieu of paying the same amount into a general fund for damage the spill caused to the public's environmental resources.

Penalties issued by the department may be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.