An excavator on a barge scoops floating debris near the shore of Gastineau Channel on Monday morning. The effort was a part of the recovery process of a 107-foot tugboat that sank at a dock south of the cruise ship docks in late December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

An excavator on a barge scoops floating debris near the shore of Gastineau Channel on Monday morning. The effort was a part of the recovery process of a 107-foot tugboat that sank at a dock south of the cruise ship docks in late December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Tagish out of water: Sunken tugboat destroyed after more than a weeklong recovery effort

Recovery and pollution cleanup expected to be complete in coming days, Coast Guard official says

Bits and pieces of debris floating on the surface of Gastineau Channel just south of the downtown cruise ship docks are all that’s left of a privately owned 107-foot tugboat that sank in late December.

The recovery of the 81-year-old boat, Tagish, began nearly two weeks ago in a collaborative effort between officials from the Coast Guard, City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the contracted salvage company Melino’s Marine Services.

The effort was led by the U.S. Coast Guard which took over the response after the owner, Don Etheridge, was unable to secure the funds to hire a contractor by the Coast Guard’s deadline to recover the vessel that was uninsured at the time of its sinking.

According to USCG Ensign Charles Whittlesey, the effort is expected to be finished within the next few days and the pieces of the vessel will be transported to a hazmat disposal site located in Seattle.

An excavator on a barge scoops floating debris near the shore of Gastineau Channel on Monday morning. The effort was a part of the recovery process of a 107-foot tugboat that sank at a dock south of the cruise ship docks in late December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

An excavator on a barge scoops floating debris near the shore of Gastineau Channel on Monday morning. The effort was a part of the recovery process of a 107-foot tugboat that sank at a dock south of the cruise ship docks in late December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Whittlesey said the recovery didn’t exactly go to plan at first, but after multiple days of removal attempts, the Tagish was finally able to come up in one piece and moved to a beach area. However, it was then decided to break the vessel up into smaller pieces to get it onto the barge.

“There have been a lot of things that have been unexpected and it was a tricky one — staying away from the sewage pipeline also complicated things,” he said. “There was plan A, B, C, D — it got done eventually, but moving it onto the beach was not plan A — plan A was to lift it where it was and put it directly onto the barge but that had to change.”

Whittlesey said the costs of the recovery are currently estimated to be at least $650,000, but will likely be even higher. The cost is initially being paid for with funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a federal trust which provides an immediate funding source for federal responses to oil spills. However, Etheridge, who is also the board chair of City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors, will afterward be liable to pay back the cost.

According to Etheridge in an interview with the Empire on Monday, he said he’s still not sure how he is going to repay the cost.

“I’m just waiting to see for myself, I don’t know how much I gotta come up — but there’s no way I can come up with that kind of money,” he said.

An excavator on a barge dumps floating debris near the shore of Gastineau Channel on Monday morning. The effort was a part of the recovery process of a 107-foot tugboat that sank at a dock south of the cruise ship docks in late December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

An excavator on a barge dumps floating debris near the shore of Gastineau Channel on Monday morning. The effort was a part of the recovery process of a 107-foot tugboat that sank at a dock south of the cruise ship docks in late December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Etheridge said he has a bit of personal money put away that he plans to use to cover some of the cost, along with using the funds from a GoFundMe that was created by a friend days after the incident. As of Monday, it has raised nearly $33,000 from 139 donors.

He said he hopes he can negotiate the cost down as well.

“It’s been ripping my heart out — it’s more than I can handle,” he said. “I think of all the thousands of dollars and hours and blood, sweat and tears I got into that, and to see it turn it into a mess like it is down there is heart-wrenching.”

This is a photo of the Tagish moored in Juneau during the time it was owned by Mike and Helene Keso, the owners before Don Etheridge. (Courtesy / Tori Keso)
This is a photo of the Tagish moored in Juneau during the time it was owned by Mike and Helene Keso, the owners before Don Etheridge. (Courtesy / Tori Keso)

This is a photo of the Tagish moored in Juneau during the time it was owned by Mike and Helene Keso, the owners before Don Etheridge. (Courtesy / Tori Keso) This is a photo of the Tagish moored in Juneau during the time it was owned by Mike and Helene Keso, the owners before Don Etheridge. (Courtesy / Tori Keso)

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

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