Grounded!

The commercial fishing vessel Kim Thanh, which grounded on Ormond Beach in Oxnard, Calif., March 14, 2014.

The commercial fishing vessel Kim Thanh, which grounded on Ormond Beach in Oxnard, Calif., March 14, 2014.

Story by Lt. Jeff Fry and Petty Officer 1st Class Carl Jehle
Photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Wayne Alleyne 

The successful rescue of a master and crew from a vessel hard-aground seldom marks the end of Coast Guard involvement in a case. The ensuing investigation, mitigation of environmental threats and oversight of salvage operations are all managed by the agency following initial response actions. Such was the case of the commercial fishing vessel Kim Thanh, which grounded on Ormond Beach in Oxnard, Calif., shortly after midnight, March 14, 2014.

Grounded vessels can pose significant challenges to responders and salvers alike. The vessel’s construction, on-scene weather conditions and makeup of the waterway’s floor all play a critical role in a successful salvage operation.

“The Kim Thanh was a worst case scenario,” said Marine Safety Technician Chief Petty Officer Pete Anderson of Marine Safety Detachment (MSD) Santa Barbara, an initial responder to the incident.

According to Anderson, the vessel had grounded on its port side, parallel to the beach in a high-energy surf area. A change of tides had resulted in a significant port list, allowing for “down flooding” to occur. Surf pounded the starboard side of the vessel as the current pushed sand around the hull, and further inside. Initial attempts to free the Kim Thanh using tow lines and offshore commercial assist vessels were abandoned as the ship’s hull, constructed primarily of wood and cement, could not withstand the additional forces.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jehle surveys Ormond Beach for oiled debris and other potential hazards. Sorbent boom was applied along the surf line to collect any oiul residue that washed ashore.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jehle surveys Ormond Beach for oiled debris and other potential hazards. Sorbent boom was applied along the surf line to collect any oiul residue that washed ashore.

In response to these conditions — and because the Thanh was a commercial vessel — marine casualty investigators and pollution responders from the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment in Santa Barbara responded to Ormond Beach. After assessing the scene, speaking with salvers and interviewing the vessel’s master, it became evident that the Thanh had made its last voyage. To complicate matters, it had grounded on an environmentally sensitive public beach with more than 300 gallons of diesel fuel in its tanks, and was only accessible for short periods during low tide cycles. In addition, the owner was uninsured and not financially capable of safely removing the vessel from the beach.

Based upon the potential environmental impact and threat to public safety, MSD Santa Barbara leveraged existing partnerships with local, state and federal agencies to bolster onscene resources and support the response.

A unified command was formed. Experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Division, the Ventura County Office of Emergency Management and the Ventura County Sherriff’s Department quickly devised a plan of action.

The Coast Guard’s Federal On-scene Coordinator first allowed responders access to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to remove the oil from the vessel, while Ventura County pursued funds to extract the vessel from the beach.

As daylight broke, oil spill response organization contractors from Patriot Environmental Services arrived on scene to tackle the environmental threats. Sorbent boom and sweep were spread around the Thanh to trap and remove any oil that had leaked from the vessel’s fuel vents and fills. Contractors scoured the beach, collecting propane tanks, 5-gallon-oil drums of hydraulic fluid and marine batteries while waiting for the tides to recede.

An excavator works to break apart the Kim Tranh as response crews reposition sorbent boom.

An excavator works to break apart the Kim Tranh as response crews reposition sorbent boom.

Once they were able to access the fuel tanks, the contractors used pneumatic pumps to remove the diesel fuel on board. The grounding and surf conditions had damaged the port tank, allowing fuel oil to leak inside the vessel and discharge into the surrounding ocean. Contractors added additional sorbent material inside the Thanh to collect the free floating diesel fuel that remained.

With the environmental threat minimized, the focus of the operation turned to removing the Thanh from Ormond Beach. Now partially sunk into the sandy sea bottom, Ventura County officials used excavators to break the vessel apart into smaller pieces that were removed from the beach by labor crews. MSD Santa Barbara and Patriot Environmental remained onscene during this stage of the operation, ready to respond if additional oil or hazardous materials were discovered.

The entire event lasted two days. When it was over, the Coast Guard-led operation had netted 13 drums of oily water, 20 cubic yards of oiled debris, several sealed containers of oil, and other hazardous material. The Thanh had vanished. Ventura County-contracted salvers removed even the smallest pieces of debris, allowing for the beach to reopen to the public.

The teamwork and collaboration between federal, state and local responders that took place following this grounding not only reduced the impacts to public safety and the environment, but showcased the positive influence interagency partnerships can have during a response.

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