World Wildlife Fund
406 G Street
March 6, 2009
Contact: Margaret Williams, WWF, (907) 830-4349
Kathy Day, KD/PR, (907) 868-4884 or 229-2470 cell
Pribilof Island Ship Grounding Highlights Urgency for Shipping Safety in Alaska
Anchorage (March 6, 2009) – Residents of St. George Island, the US Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team, local USCG personnel, and a marine salvager are converging on the remote Bering Sea island to respond to the grounding of a Seattle-based trawler, the Mar-Gun, on the wildlife-rich island. With the crew of the 112-foot fishing vessel safely rescued, the quickly assembled emergency responders have now turned toward the task of removing oil from the ship before it leaks onto the beaches of one of America’s largest seabird colonies and summer breeding ground for thousands northern fur seals
Conservation groups pointed to the Mar-gun incident as another alarm call for shipping safety and oil spill prevention in the Bering Sea. This is the second fishing vessel to ground in the last two weeks. The 58-foot fishing vessel Icy Mist ran aground on Akutan Island in the Aleutians on February 25th. “The residents and tribal government of St. George and the USCG should be commended for their immediate response,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director of World Wildlife Fund’s Alaska office. “We need to learn from this example and do much more to ensure better precautionary measures in place for all of Alaska’s marine environments.”
In addition to preparing for the possibility of oil leaks from the Mar-Gun, St. George residents are monitoring the scene for potential “rat spills” on the island, one of the Bering Sea units of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and world-renowned for the abundance of bird life. The introduction of rats from cargo and fishing vessels has devastated island ecosystems throughout the world. On both St. George and St Paul islands, the tribal and municipal governments, in collaboration with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, have taken lengthy precautions to ensure that the Pribilofs remain “rat free.” Staff from the St. George Tribal Government‘s Ecosystem Conservation Office deployed precautionary rat traps in the area within hours of the Mar-gun’s running aground. It is not yet known whether the fishing vessel had any rats on board or whether any oil has escaped into the marine environment.
The Pribilofs are recognized globally for their large concentrations of northern fur seals. This species, however, has been declining over the last decade, with pup production on the Pribilofs falling annually by about 5 percent. In January, Pribilof Island residents, fishermen, conservation groups and fishing industry representatives gathered in Anchorage to discuss the fur seal declines and other conservation issues facing the Pribilof Islands. Representatives from the St. George Traditional Council expressed particular concern about the proximity of trawlers to the island.
“While cargo traffic has been the focus of most shipping concerns, WWF has called for state and federal entities to rigorously monitor oil spill response requirements for all vessels, including those in the fishing sector,” said Williams. The Marine Exchange of Alaska has recently established receiving stations on the Pribilof Islands as part of an Alaska-wide vessel tracking system to help prevent future groundings through safe and environmentally responsible maritime operations.
This month marks the 20th the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. “Alaskans have borne terrible costs from the Exxon spill, and now we have to move expeditiously to ensure safe shipping in America’s most productive waters. It’s not a question of whether Alaska will have another major oil spill – it’s a question of when. We need to be ready when it happens,” said Williams.
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This news release and associated material can be found on www.worldwildlife.org