After nearly two days of foundering in the surf near a remote coastline in Aquinnah with hundreds of gallons of fuel on board, the Sherry Ann, a 46-foot offshore lobster boat out of Westport, was freed from her unwanted rocky berth and towed to a nearby salvage barge Thursday afternoon.
The Coast Guard reported that some 350 gallons of diesel fuel, nearly half of what was on board, were pumped from the lobster boat into eight 50-gallon drums on the back of a large truck that had been driven onto the beach. An unspecified amount of fuel spilled near the shoreline where a container boom was laid down early Thursday morning.
A Coast Guard spokesman said that while the precise amount of the spill will be determined later as part of the investigation, the amount of the spill was small. “The short answer is that the amount of fuel on the scene was minimal and was not considered a major environmental concern,” said public affairs spokesman Lieut. Joe Klinker Thursday. “The impact to the beach was also minimal,” he said.
The Sherry Ann, which is owned and operated by Michael Kitchen of New Bedford, ran aground late Tuesday evening midway between Squibnocket Point and the Gay Head Light. There were three people on board at the time. No one was injured. Coast Guard, local police, firefighters and environmental officials all responded to the scene over the next two days while a salvage effort was mounted to free the vessel, which had a gash in her hull and was carrying some 800 gallons of diesel fuel on board. The marine salvage company Tucker-Roy from New Bedford was contracted to do the work. The company sent in the tugboat Co on Wednesday and a marine barge on Thursday.
Offloading the fuel without a major spill became the primary point of concern, and a command center was set up on the beach and at the Coast Guard station in Woods Hole. The coastline where the boat went aground is a habitat for tiger beetles and piping plovers, both protected species.
Coast Guard station Menemsha and others were on the scene for most of the day Wednesday. The 87-foot Coast Guard cutter Tiger Shark was dispatched to the scene from station Woods Hole. Efforts to pull the vessel off the rocks were unsuccessful. Coast Guard senior chief Jason Olsen of station Menemsha confirmed that the Sherry Ann had a gash in her aluminum hull and was taking on water. Later in the day the lobster pots and other gear were removed from the vessel. Air Station Cape Cod launched an MH-60J Jayhawk helicopter to assess the environmental impact and check for leaking fuel. None was found.
Aquinnah police chief Randhi Belain said the first reports that fuel was leaking from the vessel came in late Wednesday night.
Early Thursday morning containment booms were placed on the beach in preparation for offloading the fuel from the Sherry Ann. Onlookers reported a strong smell of diesel along the shoreline. Clean Harbors, a well-known environmental cleanup and oil spill response firm, was on the scene to perform the pumpout work.
Captain Kitchen was sent to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to undergo testing for drugs and alcohol; Lieutenant Klinker said Thursday that the results were not back yet. Captain Kitchen returned in the afternoon to climb aboard his vessel. With her hull patched and her fuel load lightened by half, the Sherry Ann was towed from the surf and alongside the Tucker-Roy barge where pumping continued to remove seawater from her hull. Late Thursday she was en route to Fairhaven, where she would be boarded by a marine safety team from the Coast Guard for further investigation.
Chief Belain said his small force spent most of the day Thursday assisting responders who had to travel across private property to reach the site of the grounded vessel. “Mostly what we did today is crowd control,” the chief said.
A press release issued by the Coast Guard late Thursday said the incident remains under investigation.
This is not the first time the Sherry Ann has run aground. In January 1999 the vessel ran aground on Horseneck Beach in Westport. Tucker-Roy Marine Salvage Co. also was called to assist in that effort to free the lobster boat.
Gazette reporter Mark Alan Lovewell contributed to this story.