Update 3: Unified Command working to remove fishing vessel aground near Cocos Island

15 August 2014

The Guam Environmental Protection Agency (Guam EPA) continues to lead the charge for environmental protection during response operations for the grounded fishing vessel near Cocos Island.

Guam EPA is one of the three members that make up the Unified Command, which oversees response operations for the grounded fishing vessel. As the lead agency for oversight of environmental matters, Guam EPA has ensured that response operations have minimal impact to the marine environment in which the vessel lies. Protection of the reef and habitat used by animals that inhabit the surrounding area has been and remains one of the agency’s top priorities.

Plans for removing hazardous materials from the vessel were approved, but only after meeting stringent guidelines established by the Guam EPA and the other members of the Unified Command. To date, and in working collaboratively with the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam and the vessel owner’s representative, the Unified Command has ensured the safe removal of all fuel – approximately 1,000 gallons of diesel – and other hazardous liquids, as well as nets and other fishing gear that could pose a hazard to the environment and marine life. In addition, all batteries have been removed from the vessel. Guam EPA will continue to keep close watch of operations as response personnel work to remove additional fuel from the tanks.

“The Unified Command agrees that the foremost priority is the safety of all personnel involved in the response operations. Right up there with that priority is the safe and swift removal of the vessel and any potentially hazardous materials that it contains,” Guam EPA Administrator Eric M. Palacios said. “We also recognize the cultural significance that the area has in our community, as well as the opportunities that the area affords residents to provide for their families.”

After the removal of environmental threats, operations will transition to salvage the vessel. A salvage plan is being developed and will be submitted to the Unified Command for approval. During the review of the salvage plan, Guam EPA will identify potential impacts to the environment and ensure the plan adequately addresses these concerns.

Residents are reminded that the Coast Guard Captain of the Port Guam has established a 400-yard safety zone around the grounded vessel. This is an exclusion zone and mariners are not authorized within the zone at any time. Entering the zone is a violation of federal law. Mariners, recreational boaters and residents are advised to exercise extreme caution in the vicinity around the safety zone due to the dangers associated with a grounded vessel.

“We assure Mayor Ernest Chargualaf and all island residents that we will continue to expeditiously work through the process to return the area to normalcy for everyone’s benefit and enjoyment,” Palacios added.

The unified command includes Guam EPA, Federal On-scene Coordinator, and the vessel owner’s representative.

Further inquiries may be directed to the vessel owner’s representative at 671-727-4511.