A landing craft sank near Napakiak. The barge sent to retrieve it also sank


A sunken landing craft and a barge near Napakiak. (Photo courtesy of Earl Brock)

A small ship graveyard forms on the Kuskokwim River outside of Napakiak.

During the last week of July, a landing craft sank while transporting construction equipment to Napakiak for high school work.

Bethel-based contracting company Jobs Done Right, which operated the landing craft, then called on Homer-based Kachemak Marine to help recover it. They sent a 20ft by 45ft barge upriver to act as a working platform for rescue divers, who planned to attach lift bags to float the sunken landing craft.

The barge also sank.

Kachemak Marine salvage captain Earl Brock says no one saw either vessel sink. He blames the storm last week.

“I’m sure between the high waves, the high wind and all the other things that could go wrong, Murphy showed up and that was the end of it,” Brock said. “He sank that barge.”

Brock says it’s likely no one will ever know why the landing craft sank.

“I’ll tell you, if you talk to 15 different people in the community, you’ll get 15 different responses,” Brock said. “What I’m also going to tell you is that no one has an irrefutable, infallible explanation for why the landing craft sank.”

According to Brock, no one was on either ship when it sank, and both were secured ashore and not blocking river traffic. He says there is no fuel leak.

“We don’t see any environmental threats,” Brock said. “There is a very small amount of fuel that was released when the ships sank, maybe less than a gallon, but a gallon sounds like a lot of fuel.”

If there is oil in the water, the US Coast Guard said it would be the responsibility of Jobs Done Right and Katchemak Marine to clean it up.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Marine Accident Investigator Kevin Williams says there’s a lot they don’t know about landing craft.

“We don’t know if the tanks were full or half empty, or if there was oil in the engine room holds,” Williams said. “The name of the ship given to us is not even in our database.”

Brock, the salvage captain, gave no timetable for the recovery of the two vessels, but said they were building rigging to refloat both boats. It also does not expect to be damaged.

“We’re still getting the equipment we need, but the short version is we’ll lift them, bail them out, pick them up and process them once they’re bailed out,” Brock said.

Hale, the owner of Jobs Done Right, says the shipwrecks haven’t slowed the school’s construction schedule.

According to Sally Benedict, the Napakiak Schools site administrator, construction was due to be completed by August 21. The school is still waiting to be connected to water and heating before bringing students back into the building.

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