TACOMA, Wash. - A massive barge piled high with crushed cars was listing in Tacoma's Commencement Bay on Monday morning, and the Coast Guard said some cars and parts fell into the water.
The barge was headed to Schnitzer Steel to deliver the scrap cars but had been moored for several days in the bay.
Problems with the barge were reported Sunday afternoon when the 750-foot Canadian barge, owned by Amix, began listing and taking on water, the Coast Guard said.
"It was listing yesterday," said Jonathan Mack, Tyee Marina Employee. "And they pumped some water and stuff. I think they had a leak on it, that's what they were saying."
They Coast Guard roped off a 200-yard safety zone around the barge, and when their helicopter flew over the vessel, a light oil sheen was seen on the water.
Eight or 9 cars reportedly plunged into 240-foot-deep water.
The Coast Guard said that the exact number of cars that fell wouldn't be known until videotape could be reviewed.
Schnitzer Steel reportedly told the Coast Guard the cars were drained of all fluids before they were shipped, so the oil in the water is likely residual.
"A small amount of oil can make a big sheen. Of course, in Washington, we have strict laws. We don't want to have any oil in the water. In fact, any oil in the water is a violation of state law," said Ron Holcomb with the State Department of Ecology. "We'll be looking most likely at the Canadian Company for potential enforcement but that will come after an investigation."
The barge apparently had a crack in it which caused it to list.
"The crack was temporarily sealed and the water is being pumped off of it to make it more stable," said Holcomb on Monday morning.
The Coast Guard and the Department of Ecology stabilized the barge and it was towed on Monday afternoon to Schnitzer Steel, where it was no longer in danger of tipping over.
However, the Coast Guard said that the vessel, once it is completely off-loaded, will have to be fully inspected and, if necessary, repaired, before it can be towed back to Canada.
The Coast Guard said that there is no further possibility of the ship polluting Commencement Bay or hindering busy Port of Tacoma ship traffic. Its investigation into how this happened is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Amix is planning how to get the sunken cars out of Commencement Bay.