The tugboat Lumberman is seen aground in Gastineau Channel on Monday, May 21, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire photo)

The tugboat Lumberman is seen aground in Gastineau Channel on Monday, May 21, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire photo)

Abandoned tugboat stuck in middle of Gastineau Channel

A tugboat is stuck on a sandbar in the Gastineau Channel with no place to go.

The 107-foot tugboat Lumberman has been stranded since May 5, and its removal is a state — not city — matter, said City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors Port Director Carl Uchytil. Uchytil said any possible removal would fall under the jurisdiction of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water due to the vessel’s location.

“Right now, as it stands, (the city) would have no authority to impound the vessel based on legal standing and legal precedent,” Uchytil said.

City officials have struggled to make contact with Lumberman’s owner, whom they identified as Brenden Mattson. Harbormaster Dave Borg said he doesn’t have a phone number for the owner of the boat.

The tug, called the Lumberman, was built in 1941 and came to Juneau in 1998, according to

A letter from Docks & Harbors dated Sept. 6, 2017 requested that Mattson move the Lumberman from near Aurora Harbor. The minutes from the Sept. 20, 2017 Docks & Harbors board meeting, the previous owner of the boat traded it to Mattson sometime prior to summer 2017. Mattson did not have the means to move the Lumberman at the time, the minutes state.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Kristen Zelman said the Coast Guard has been in contact with the state and city on what to do with the vessel, but there has not yet been an agreement on a timeline for when, legally, it can be towed away.

The vessel, Zelman said, is the same vessel that was anchored at Aurora Harbor before it drifted to its current location. The Coast Guard boarded the vessel in January and found oily waste and other hazardous materials on the boat, Zelman said. Those materials were removed.

When the boat was anchored outside Aurora Harbor, Uchytil said, people were living on it. This past winter, there was also a gillnetter tied to it called the Ellen C., Uchytil said. On the night of Dec. 5, 2017, a 10-foot skiff carrying five people capsized while it was on its way out to either the Lumberman or Ellen C. Uchytil said he didn’t want to speculate which vessel the boat was headed for, but that it was one of the two. When the skiff capsized, five people went into the cold water of Gastineau Channel. The Coast Guard was able to rescue three of them, but two — 50-year-old James Cole and 48-year-old Sheridan “Scott” Stringer — have still not been found.

Uchytil said that to his knowledge, nobody is living on the vessel now.

Gastineau Channel is divided between CBJ, state and federal jurisdiction, Uchytil said, and if the vessel keeps drifting it could end up becoming the Coast Guard’s responsibility instead of DNR’s. The Coast Guard could declare the vessel a hazard if it got in the way of others, Uchytil (a retired Coast Guard captain) said, and could dispose of it.

“The potential for her to drift and be a navigational hazard is real,” Uchytil said.

For now, it will remain in the middle of the channel, closer to Douglas Island than the mainland. As a light rain fell and white-capped waves rolled down the channel Monday, the Lumberman listed a bit to its left.

Uchytil pointed out this isn’t the first time in recent years a tugboat has gotten loose in the channel. In 2015, the 96-foot tugboat Challenger sunk in the channel.

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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