Efforts under way to contain Alaska oil spill
Search called off for ship's missing crew members
(CNN) -- Authorities struggled Saturday against adverse weather conditions to determine the extent of an oil spill from a Malaysia-flagged cargo vessel that foundered in frigid waters off Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
"We're still hoping to get wildlife people out there," said Jill Owesny, spokeswoman for the Unified Command, which includes the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Booms have been laid in an effort to protect salmon streams, and helicopters were headed to the site to assess the extent of the spill, she said.
The 738-foot Selendang Ayu, carrying soybeans from Tacoma, Washington, to China, lost power to its main engine Tuesday before running aground and splitting its hull on the northern shore of Unalaska Island, near fertile fisheries and a sea lion habitat. Unalaska Island is about 800 miles (1,280 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage, Alaska.
Twenty of 26 crew members were rescued, and searches for the missing took place Thursday and Friday, despite estimations that a person could survive only three hours in the 43-degree water.
The Coast Guard suspended its search Friday night.
The water was rough Saturday, with 14-foot seas expected to increase to 24 feet and winds between 35 mph and 50 mph, Owesny said.
The freighter was carrying 483,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil and 21,000 gallons of diesel fuel, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Owesny said Saturday it was not yet clear how much fuel had spilled.
The Coast Guard has enlisted three commercial vessels and crews to skim the water and place booms in the environmentally sensitive salmon lakes and streams affected by the spill.
"Oil recovery by skimmers and vacuum pumps can be very effective early in the spill," the Coast Guard said Friday in a news release. "Very little of this viscous oil is likely to disperse in the water column. However, only 5 to 10 percent is expected to evaporate within the first hours of a spill. Consequently, the oil can travel hundreds of miles in the form of scattered tarballs by winds and currents."
Some birds have been spotted swimming in oily water, the Coast Guard said Friday.
Meanwhile, 10 surviving Selendang Ayu crew members were to meet with National Transportation Safety Board investigators at Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The NTSB is the lead agency investigating the marine casualties.
Friday night, the managing director for IMC Shipping offered "its sincerest condolences to the families and friends of the lost crew."
In a news release, Peter Chew also thanked the Coast Guard and the Dutch Harbor community. Wednesday, a Coast Guard rescue helicopter crashed en route to the ship. The four crew members were not injured and were rescued.