A tanker carrying almost five million gallons of oil and petrol broke free of its moorings while loading at an Alaskan refinery yesterday and began leaking into the Cook Inlet approach to Anchorage.
The double-hulled tanker, the Seabulk Pride, was hit by a fast-moving ice floe which untethered the mooring line and caused the vessel to drift about half a mile into the Inlet, where it came to rest on a silty bank.
Initial reports suggested the spillage was minimal - no more than five barrels, of which only two escaped the vessel into the waters of the inlet.
The accident nevertheless caused jitters for Alaskan shipping authorities and for the company chartering the tanker, Texas-based Tesoro Inc. Memories are still strong of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1988, when 11 million gallons of raw crude spilled into Prince William Sound, about 100 miles to the southeast of Cook Inlet.
The Seabulk Pride was carrying four kinds of fuel, according to the Coast Guard, including almost 100,000 barrels of a thick residual oil product with the consistency of asphalt. The ice floe struck without warning in the early hours of the morning, as the ship was being loaded with new product.
The Coast Guard spokesman Eric Chandler said there was some damage to the tanker's fuel arm, but the vessel was otherwise in reasonable shape.
The tanker had been carrying 34 people when the ice floe struck, including two pilots. Nobody was injured.