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November 13, 1989
Tankers full of trouble

Alaska Fleet
Cracks in the system

Cracks in the hulls of tankers can lead them to split and even break apart. Because of the punishing weather in the Gulf of Alaska, the tankers that serve the Trans-Alaska Pipeline are especially vulnerable to such cracks.

Here is a sampling of problems experienced by Alaska tankers that also travel Washington waters:

• The Stuyvesant: This 228,000-ton ship split open twice in 1987, spilling more than 1.3 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Alaska.

In January 1987, after two days of ferocious beating by 40-foot seas in the gulf, the ship's bottom developed a 17-foot-long crack that split open as wide as a pencil and spilled 600,000 gallons.

In October of that year, a freak wave the height of an eight-story building hit the Stuyvesant, splitting its side near a bad weld. More than 700,000 gallons of oil was lost through the 18-foot-long crack.

Engineers said the freak wave was 40 percent more powerful than what the ship was designed to take; and after limiting the ship's load for eight months the Coast Guard lifted the restriction because inspectors said even a load limit wouldn't protect the ship if it was hit by a wave like that again.

Coast Guard records show the Stuyvesant suffered minor hull fractures in 1985 and 1986, prior to the spills. Since the 1987 spills, records show one of the ship's cargo tanks developed a hole, in December 1988.

The Stuyvesant doesn't visit Washington ports, but cruises off the state coast.

• The Thompson Pass: Three cracks, including a 9-footer, sprung in the bottom of this 173,000-ton tanker. It spilled 71,000 gallons of oil in the harbor of Valdez, Alaska, on Jan. 3. Shipyard inspectors in Portland later found cracks on the side of the ship, too, but don't know when they occurred.

The Thompson Pass infrequently visits Port Angeles.

• The Atigun Pass: Eight small cracks — the largest 4 inches long — were found in the hull of the ship while it was drydocked in Portland this summer, inspectors say. The 176,000-ton tanker infrequently visits Port Angeles.

• The Mobil Arctic: A 6-inch fracture was found on the bottom during loading at Valdez in July. The ship visited Washington state 14 times in the first eight months of this year and six times last year.

• The Arco Juneau: A 6-inch side crack was discovered two months ago during a voyage from Valdez to Long Beach, Calif., and a small amount of oil seeped out before the leaking tank was emptied. The ship visited Puget Sound 12 times in the first eight months of this year and 18 times last year.

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