Run aground

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo</I><BR>The Millicoma drifted up against the rocks at North Head on Saturday night after breaking free of a tow rope while being pulled across the river bar.

According to officials, stranded barge could be moved by WednesdayCAPE D STATE PARK - The North Head and North Jetty roads and the Beards Hollow parking lot in Cape Disappointment State Park remained closed Tuesday after a 345-foot barge that broke free from a tug Saturday night became grounded in a rocky cove beneath the North Head Lighthouse.

The empty oil barge Millicoma, owned by Sause Brothers, was being towed across the Columbia River Bar when the line connecting it to the tug Howard Olsen, owned by Foss Maritime, broke at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday. The barge, which contained between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel, was heavily damaged.

The crew of the Howard Olsen searched for the barge Saturday night, hampered by strong winds, but were unable to locate it. On Sunday morning, in helicopters provided by the Columbia River Bar Pilots, the Millicoma was found lodged in the small cove north of the lighthouse.

A second barge was also being towed by the tug, but it did not break loose and is safely moored in Portland.

Salvage workers were being lowered by helicopter onto the deck of the grounded barge Tuesday to complete tasks necessary to refloat the barge, according to a press release from the U.S. Coast Guard 13th District.

Significant progress was made Monday as workers from Sause Brothers were successfully lowered onto the deck to seal cargo tank compartments, readying them to be filled with air so the barge can be refloated, according to the release.

No oil sheen has been observed on or in the water surrounding the grounded barge, according to the Coast Guard. The diesel recovery effort would include lowering several 500-gallon capacity totes onto the deck so the diesel can be off-loaded and removed by helicopter.

The grounding attracted a number of observers to the state park on Sunday and Monday, despite heavy rain and blustery wind. The roads and parking lot in the park will reopen after the barge is removed. Benson Beach is open to the public.

Sam Sacco, a spokesperson for a joint information center set up by Foss Maritime at the Seaview Fire Hall, said the road closure was necessary because the parking lot at the North Jetty is being used as a staging area for the recovery operation. "Safety drives any of these operations," Sacco said. "We want to make sure no one gets hurt while we're responding. Weather is a big factor while we're working on the recovery. Today (Tuesday) is a good weather day."

Sacco said more personnel were to be placed on the barge Tuesday "to help prep it so the actual operation to free it from the rocks can be done effectively and efficiently."

Personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Washington State Department of Ecology, Foss Maritime and Sause Brothers have organized at the Seaview Fire Department to coordinate efforts to respond to the grounded oil barge

To date, there have been no injuries to any of the crews.

When the barge is finally freed from the cove, which could take several days, Sacco said it will probably be towed to a nearby port to make immediate repairs, then to a dry dock in Portland.

Foss Maritime Co. is based in Seattle and operates a fleet of tugs and barges throughout the West Coast.

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