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Rescue ships come to aid of disabled freighter off Alaska

By the CNN Wire Staff
The 783-foot Golden Seas, with a full load of canola seed, has struggled to keep from running aground since Friday.
The 783-foot Golden Seas, with a full load of canola seed, has struggled to keep from running aground since Friday.
  • NEW: Weather conditions improve
  • The freighter suffered engine loss off the Aleutian Islands
  • Rescue aircraft and vessels are assisting the crew
  • A Coast Guard cutter and towing vessel race to the scene

(CNN) -- A giant freighter disabled in high and frigid seas near Alaska's remote Aleutian Islands could be under tow by late Saturday, officials said.

The 738-foot Golden Seas, with a full load of canola seed, suffered engine problems Friday morning and was chugging along at only 3 knots (3.5 mph).

The 20-member crew and rescue officials were concerned about it running aground on Atka Island, but weather conditions have improved, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Golden Seas was about 50 miles north of the island late Saturday afternoon. Winds in the 40- to 50-knot range were expected to fall to 30 knots (35 mph).

"The safety of the crew is paramount. At the current time they are not in any danger," Jeremy Michels, responsible party incident commander, said in a teleconference.

The vessel, owned by the Greek company Allseas Marine, was traveling from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the United Arab Emirates.

Besides the seed, the Golden Seas has more than 450,000 gallons of crude oil, 11,700 gallons of diesel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil on board, the Coast Guard said.

A tow vessel were expected to arrive late Saturday and the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley will be on scene Sunday morning.

Plans call for the Golden Seas to be towed to Dutch Harbor, about 270 miles away. The operation will be challenging because of high seas, officials said. If it goes as planned, the Golden Seas could reach port by Monday morning.

The Golden Seas got a respite from punishing seas Friday when waves dropped from 29 feet to 20 feet, "allowing the crew to utilize limited engine capability to maneuver northeast away from land," the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Seas were expected to be at between 16 feet and 20 feet Sunday.

Helicopters aided the effort to keep the freighter from drifting southeast and running aground on Atka, part of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea.

Concerns about the vessel running aground and spilling oil subsided Saturday, said Gary Folley of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The state and U.S. Coast Guard are conducting a risk assessment of rescue operations in the region, said Folley. The study will include a look at possible funding to add more rescue tugs on the islands.

"It is enough to have [one] rescue tug in Dutch Harbor?" Folley asked.

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.