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Sunken fishing boat prompts closure of shellfish harvesting in Penn Cove

The sheen of diesel fuel from a sunken crab boat in Penn Cove has spread to the Coupeville Wharf and prompted state officials to close the area to shellfish harvesting. -
The sheen of diesel fuel from a sunken crab boat in Penn Cove has spread to the Coupeville Wharf and prompted state officials to close the area to shellfish harvesting.
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Divers have successfully plugged the hole in the fuel tank of a 128-foot crab boat that caught fire and sank in Penn Cove this past weekend, but enough diesel leaked out that the state has closed the bay to shellfish harvesting.

According to Mark Toy, an environmental engineer with the state Department of Health, more diesel was in the boat than earlier thought and photos from the air have shown just how far the resulting sheen has spread.

"It looks like the oil sheen is pretty extensive," Toy said. "As of this morning, it went past the Coupeville Wharf."

For those reasons, the agency decided to issue a formal closure for the whole shellfish bed in the cove, he said. It will be effective immediately and will stay in effect for one week after the sheen dissipates.

At that time, a series of tests will be performed in accordance with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration standards. If everything checks out, the shellfish bed area will be reopened for harvesting.

Ian Jefferds, owner of Penn Cove Shellfish, said state officials had notified him of the closure prior to the issuance of a new release Tuesday afternoon.

"At this point it looks like we are going to be closed down for at least a week," Jefferds said.

Up until this point, the farm had voluntarily shut down harvesting since the vessel sank on Sunday.

The closure comes after the successful patching of the vessel's leaking fuel tank. Petty Officer Nathan Bradshaw, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, confirmed late Tuesday that divers had patched the hole, which had been leaking diesel at a rate of about one to two gallons per minute.

Syphoning efforts are ongoing and, so far, about 2,100 gallons of diesel has been recovered. Once the tanks are empty, divers will then search the inside of the vessel for any other pollutants, such as portable gas cans or paints.

The fishing vessel Deep Sea caught fire late Saturday evening before sinking about 19 hours later on Sunday. It's currently lying in about 60 feet of water just outside Penn Cove Shellfish's mussel rafts.

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