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In the wee hours of Sunday 12 August 2018, the F/V Pacific Quest ran aground near Terrace Point. Over the next 24 hours she broke apart and began leaking diesel fuel into Monterey Bay. Fortunately most of the diesel was removed from the wreck, but the boat itself continued to disintegrate, with a lot of the debris washing up on the nearby shoreline. Due to the wreck's position on the beach, clean-up crews have access to it only at low tide. We are now getting into a period of neap tides, limiting the time that people and equipment can be safely deployed on the beach. The good news is that after a delay yesterday due to an electrical problem, the removal of the Pacific Quest itself has begun.

The real deconstruction of the boat started during the evening low tide on 15 August.  It was supposed to start on the morning low tide, but there was a problem with the equipment and the crew spent the day waiting for and installing parts. The salvage crew used a crane to lower a small excavator onto the beach, which gathered debris into a large pile. The excavator was also used to smash the remains of the boat into smaller pieces, so the crane could hoist them up the cliff. My husband walked down to the lab and took some video of the action:

I was at the lab on the morning of 16 August and took some pictures, too. The coastal access pathway is blocked around the area where the salvagers are working, so I could get only so close. Plus, the lighting conditions were about as bad as daylight can be, for taking photos: I was shooting directly into a bright morning sun, with a lot of fog in the air. As a result these photos aren't great, or even good, but they give a sense of what was going on at the time.

This picture of the crane was taken before any actual clean-up activity had started. The crane is positioned near the edge of the cliff on the coastal access trail. In this photo it is swiveled 180° away from the cliff.

Crane used to remove wreckage from the beach
16 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

While the crane was being fired up and moved into working position, two guys were on the beach using an excavator on the beach remove debris from the deck of the F/V Pacific Quest into a pile on the beach itself:

Salvage crew clearing wreckage of the F/V Pacific Quest
16 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Then salvage workers attached a piece of debris to the line that was lowered by the crane:

Salvage crew clearing wreckage of the F/V Pacific Quest
16 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

And the crane began to lift up the chunk of debris:

Salvage crew clearing wreckage of the F/V Pacific Quest
16 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong © Allison J. Gong

And finally the piece of wreckage was taken off the beach:

Crane removing debris of F/V Pacific Quest
16 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

I imagine the same sequence of events was repeated many times that morning, as often as the tide would allow. I hope the salvage guys are also picking up the flotsam that was carried to other beaches. The work will be limited by the tides. Fortunately we're into neap tides now, which is a mixed blessing. The highs and lows won't be as extreme as they were a week ago, resulting in less time that the crew can work on the beach (bad) as well as tides that are less likely to wash flotsam off the beach and back into the water (good).

The last I heard, the clean-up at the Terrace Point site was supposed to be completed by Saturday. That's tomorrow. Today (Friday 17 August) I went out to the point and had a nice chat with the security guy, who updated me on the progress. He said the crew removed the rest of the boat and a fuel tank yesterday. And the site of the original wreck is now clear of large pieces of boat:

Site of the shipwreck of the F/V Pacific Quest
17 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

There is one more fuel tank on the other side of that point, which the salvage crew will work on removing this evening at 20:00h when the tide will be low again. There are also people picking up debris on the Natural Bridges side of the point.

Fuel tank of the F/V Pacific Quest
17 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

It isn't easy, working in these conditions, and once the immediate hazard of additional fuel discharge was abated the clean-up seems to have made slow but steady progress. Most of the flotsam is already gone, except for the inevitable little pieces that will get missed in this initial burst of clean-up activity. This Sunday, a week after the initial shipwreck, a visitor to the beach will not know that anything of interest happened here. Those of us who live and work and study here will remember, though.

1

This morning I went out on what will probably be my last low tide of the season. We don't get any good (i.e., below 0 feet and during daylight hours) until November, so it's time to hang up the hip boots for a few months and work on other things. I had planned to go to Natural Bridges even before the shipwreck incident, and since the wreck is right next to Natural Bridges I thought it would be good to check on how much debris is washing up at a site I visit frequently.

I'm sure that most people are familiar with the phrase "flotsam and jetsam", referring to pieces of miscellaneous stuff. I had to look up the terms to remember the difference between them. Flotsam is the stuff that floats on the water and gets washed up when a ship or boat wrecks, while jetsam is the stuff that is deliberately thrown overboard to reduce weight (say, to increase speed). What I would be seeing today is flotsam.

It was so sad. I'm not naive enough to have thought there would be no debris, but I wasn't sure what to expect--big pieces? small pieces? identifiable pieces? At this point I hadn't checked on the status of the boat yet and didn't know how much of it was still grounded off Terrace Point.

The first thing I saw was something (I don't know what) that had been dragged up the beach. It looks like a piece of equipment tangled up in a big piece of fabric, maybe a t-shirt? More than one t-shirt?

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

The first recognizable thing I saw was, oddly, a bulb of garlic. I don't know why it was surprising. Obviously, people who spend a lot of time on boats eat on boats, and some of the flotsam from any shipwreck is going to be food, right? Another food item that washed up was a vacuum-sealed package labeled "Emergency Ration".

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Another everyday household (boathold?) item was a tube of sunscreen. I also saw a few plastic utensils, which may or may not have been from the shipwreck. Unfortunately there's always some plastic detritus on all of our beaches these days, a legacy from decades of single-use plastics being literally thrown to the wind to end up as garbage in the oceans and elsewhere. Hard to believe that "out of sight, out of mind" used to be the universal prevailing outlook, isn't it? Here in California and elsewhere there is much greater awareness in recent years that plastic in the environment never really goes away. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, which can enter the food chain at lower and lower trophic levels. That's a whole other story to talk about. Maybe some day I'll be brave enough to tackle it.

Stuff from the wreckage was strewn across all of the intertidal benches and pocket beaches at Natural Bridges. This is looking towards Terrace Point, where remnants of the boat are stuck in the ground:

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

When I was watching the crews pumping fuel off the wrecked boat yesterday, I saw two survival suits washing around in the surf, and wondered where they would end up. I saw one of them this morning, along with two life vests.

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

 

 

And a respirator:

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

And an entire boat. This is the inflatable Zodiac that had been tied to the roof of the cabin of the F/V Pacific Quest.

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

I don't know what Marine Compound is, but a bottle of it washed up, along with what looks like a piece of insulation:

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

And of course there was styrofoam. Styrofoam is insidious stuff, because it doesn't remain intact long enough to be removed as big pieces, but instead immediately starts breaking down into small bits that will soon enough become the nurdles that are such a problem for marine life.

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Already the pieces of plastic and styrofoam were getting smaller. I don't know what the blue stuff is; another form of styrofoam, maybe?

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Not all of the flotsam has washed onto the beaches and rocks. There is still a significant amount floating in the water, to be transported to other sites near and far. There's even flotsam in the tidepools. Wood, fiberglass, and plastic are all included.

14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

After leaving the intertidal I went to the marine lab to see what things looked like from the cliff about the wreck. The entire front part of the boat is now gone, and the only part remaining is the aft end containing the two heavy engines.

Wrecked F/V Pacific Quest
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Engine of the wrecked F/V Pacific Quest, viewed from above
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

From the cliff you can better see how widely dispersed the flotsam is. It isn't concentrated in any particular area but is everywhere, in pieces small and large.

Debris from the wrecked F/V Pacific Quest strewn over the intertidal at Natural Bridges
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

There is some good news. All of the fuel was removed from the boat so there's no further danger of additional chemical pollution into Monterey Bay. The salvage crew did remove some of the debris from the immediate area around the wreck, and tomorrow the engine will be removed by crane up the cliff. It's going to be an impressive and LOUD undertaking, starting very early in the morning.

Taking the long view, this is one of a great many acute insults to the marine environment. The ocean is resilient to some extent, but our actions are causing changes that affect the entire biosphere. I'm having a hard time finding a silver lining in this shipwreck. I certainly never wanted to bear witness to an environmental disaster on any scale. And while in the grand scheme of things this is a small localized event, it feels pretty momentous to me.

I'll leave you with this more positive photo. Flotsam aside, it was a beautiful morning.

Approach to tidepools at Natural Bridges
14 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

1

Very early in the morning of Sunday 12 August 2018, the F/V Pacific Quest ran aground near Long Marine Lab. I found out about it because the lab facilities manager sent out a global e-mail telling us that a boat had wrecked and telling us that the seawater pumps had been turned off just in case the boat leaked any fuel or oil. The e-mail came through at about 06:00h. By the time I got to the lab at 10:30 the pumps had been turned back on. After I made sure all of my animals were okay, I moseyed over to the cliff to see what I could see.

The tide was coming in, to a high of 5 feet at 12:42h. The captain had dropped an anchor before leaving the boat after it got stuck on the reef ledge, which kept it from drifting away and becoming a hazard to other vessels on the water. The rising tide had lifted the boat from the ledge to land between the ledge and a small rock island. The swells picked up the boat, but the hull had been damaged and she was taking on water. The captain was the only person on the boat, so there was no loss of human life in this incident.

The F/V Pacific Quest, shipwrecked at Long Marine Lab
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
The F/V Pacific Quest, shipwrecked at Long Marine Lab
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

The swells were continually breaking over the bow, flooding the cabin and washing flotsam off into the ocean.

The F/V Pacific Quest, shipwrecked at Long Marine Lab
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

A Vessel Assist boat was there when I arrived and was stationed just inside the kelp bed. They put two guys into the water, who swam to the Pacific Quest and attempted to attach a tow line.

12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Ultimately, however, they decided that conditions were too dangerous for the Vessel Assist boat to tow away the Pacific Quest. The hull had been breached and the boat had taken on a lot of water, making her too heavy to be towed safely. Besides, the Pacific Quest is a 65-foot fishing boat, making her about twice as long as the small Vessel Assist boat. The two guys swam back out to the rescue boat and they drove away.

Meanwhile the tide continued to rise, and the Pacific Quest was clearly floating, albeit listing to port and heavy in the bow. I think that if she hadn't been anchored to the shore she would have floated away. Could she have been safely towed away at this point? I don't know. I do know that no other actions were taken to try to remove her.

I returned in the late afternoon for the high low tide, and it was clear that the boat was resting on the sand between the ledge and the small island. The continued bashing against the rock had put a big dent in the starboard side, no doubt worsening the hull breach.

The F/V Pacific Quest, shipwrecked at Long Marine Lab
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

With the boat stationary on sand, a salvage crew finally started taking action. They removed the remaining debris from the deck, including the fuel tank from the inflatable zodiac, and attached some lines.

Salvage crew aboard the shipwrecked F/V Pacific Quest
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Salvage crew aboard the shipwrecked F/V Pacific Quest
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Someone had determined that although the hull had been breached the fuel tanks were undamaged and were unlikely to release any diesel fuel or other oil into Monterey Bay. At the end of the day yesterday the plan was for the salvage crew to tie the boat down and keep her from drifting away after the evening high tide, and start pumping off the fuel at low tide this morning. Then the salvagers could work on removing the boat itself. I couldn't figure out exactly how they would remove the boat, but hey, I'm only a marine biologist, not a marine salvager. As long as the fuel tanks didn't rupture, things would be juuuuust fine.

So much for plans. The caretakers reported smelling diesel fumes at 21:30h last night, and shut down the seawater intake pipes. Turns out the boat had broken up during the rising tide, with at least one fuel tank ruptured. Fortunately, if that's a word that can be used in this situation, the shipwreck is downstream from the seawater intake. The pumps were shut down for a few hours this morning and we're on short rations, but there doesn't seem to be a significant amount of diesel in the seawater system.

I was working the low tide this morning and had an appointment afterward, so I didn't get to the lab until about noon. The boat was well and truly broken up by then, into two large pieces and a great many smaller ones. The pieces of wood, plastic, and fiberglass were already dispersing with the currents.

Flotsam from the shipwrecked F/V Pacific Quest
13 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong
The F/V Pacific Quest, broken on the beach at Long Marine Lab
13 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

The good news is that the salvage crew had finally started pumping off the fuel remaining on the boat. As of 17:17 today the crew reports that they should be able to offload all of the fuel before the next high tide tonight. With any luck, they'll be able to finish the job and we can carry on as usual without anymore seawater interruptions. At this point I don't know what plans, if any, are in place to remove the boat parts on the beach. The various organizations at the marine lab are parties of interest, but none have the responsibility of cleaning up this mess. We just have to live and work with it.

Life preserver from the shipwrecked F/V Pacific Quest
12 August 2018
© Allison J. Gong

UPDATE: As of 19:00h on Monday 13 August 2018 all fuel has been pumped out of the Pacific Quest. The major risk of chemical pollution into Monterey Bay has been abated. The next stage of recovery is the retrieval of debris from the beach and ocean.

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