Barge that dumped scrap cars into Commencement Bay safely unloaded, no plan yet to retrieve submerged vehicles

The listing barge that dumped several crushed cars into Commencement Bay on Sunday was unloaded Tuesday at Schnitzer Steel along the Hylebos Waterway, and is to be inspected today, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Meanwhile, no plan has yet been made to retrieve the scrap cars from about 240 feet of water. The exact number of cars isn’t known, but officials believe the barge lost eight or nine.

“The cars are not a navigation issue and they really don’t pose a significant pollution threat,” Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn said. The barge’s owner, Canadian-based Amix Marine Services, still must retrieve them, according to the state.

“We did communicate to Amix Marine that we expect the cars to be removed,” state Department of Ecology specialist Ron Holcomb said.

“There is the potential for additional loss of oil from those vehicles, residual oil and ultimately that’s one of the reasons why we’d like to get them out of the water, even though it may be a small environmental threat.”

The cars are on state-owned aquatic land, which means a permit might be required for the recovery effort, which the state Department of Natural Resources has yet to determine, Holcomb said. “Right now we don’t have a plan in place or a time table,” he said. The Coast Guard did an initial survey of the roughly 250-foot-long vessel Tuesday, but needs to make sure the crack in the hull that caused the listing Sunday has been permanently repaired before the barge sets sail.

It was towed to Schnitzer, destination for the scrap metal, on Monday after crews hired by Schnitzer and Amix stabilized it.