The privately owned 107-foot tugboat named Tagish sits submerged in the water next to the National Guard dock south of the downtown cruise ship docks Tuesday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The privately owned 107-foot tugboat named Tagish sits submerged in the water next to the National Guard dock south of the downtown cruise ship docks Tuesday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Sunken tugboat owner on tight deadline to recover vessel

According to the owner, the effort is expected to cost around $300,000.

The owner of a recently sunk 107-foot tugboat has until noon on Monday to hire a contractor to recover the vessel — expected to cost around $300,000 — or the U.S. Coast Guard will step in to take over the response efforts.

According to the owner, Don Etheridge, he was given a phone call and an administrative order on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard early Thursday and now is searching to find a way to recover his 81-year-old uninsured tugboat, the Tagish.

After the initial sinking near the downtown cruise ship dock was reported in late December., Etheridge, who is board chair of CBJ Docks and Harbors, said he has been in serious contact with around three local contractors, all of which are asking around a $300,000 payment in advance to recover the vessel. Etheridge said he’s not sure he can find the funds in time to meet the Coast Guard’s deadline.

A GoFundMe to assist Etheridge’s recovery efforts was set up days after the incident by Juneau resident Tom Brice, a longtime friend of Etheridge. According to the website, the effort has raised nearly $30,000 from more than 120 donors as of Friday evening. The fundraiser has a goal of $50,000.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it — they want the money upfront, but I ain’t got $300,000 lying around,” he said. “I don’t see it happening.”

Lt. Matt Naylor with the Coast Guard said the administrative order is a normal procedure and if the recovery efforts are taken over by the Coast Guard, the situation will be assessed and responded to, however, he noted recovery might not mean getting the vessel completely out of the water.

Naylor said although the Coast Guard will initially fund the response, the fiscal responsibility will ultimately still be in the hands of the owner. The vessel will not be seized or become Coast Guard property.

“We will assess the situation, and right now we are trying to give the owner every opportunity available to take care of the response efforts on his own before the coast guard takes over,” “We are following normal procedure and it’s for the safety of the environment which promotes us to issue an administrative order.

Sarah Moore, environmental program manager at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said the DEC is in an “oversight role” and working with the vessel owner and the Coast Guard to ensure any spillage and pollution is being contained.

According to Matt Creswell, City and Borough of Juneau harbormaster, approximately 60 gallons of diesel fuel and 50 gallons of lube oil were on board the vessel at the time of its sinking.

DEC in partnership with the city and Coast Guard placed containment booms along with absorbent mats surrounding and in the area of the sinking hours after being notified of the incident on Dec. 29.

As of Friday, the efforts appear to be doing a good job at containment, according to Moore.

Moore said as the salvage operations become more clear, DEC will request a copy of the work plans to review prior to recovery efforts, which she said is to ensure the pollution is contained and does not spread beyond the area.

In the meantime, Etheridge said he will continue to work toward finding a solution, but said he still is not sure how he will be able to find the funds necessary to pay for the recovery.

“I’m ready to wash my hands of it,” he said. “It’s at the point now that I’ve stressed out about it so much that I can’t stand it no more.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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