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an oil slick is seen in the middle of a body of water from overhead with land in the background
Oil sheen, containment boom, and deflection boom in Starrigavan Bay on April 23, 2017 (United States Coast Guard)

NOAA Achieves Restoration Settlement for the Tug Powhatan Oil Spill in Alaska

June 21, 2023

NOAA recently accepted a settlement for damage assessment and restoration for the Tug Powhatan oil spill. The $1.3 million dollar settlement will fund two restoration projects in Sitka, Alaska that will benefit Pacific herring spawning habitat, as well as local Tribes and communities. It will also reimburse costs incurred during the assessment.

The incident began on April 19, 2017 when an out-of-service tugboat, the Tug Powhatan, sank in Starrigavan Bay near Sitka, Alaska, causing an oil spill. The tug released an unknown amount of refined fuels and lubricating oils over the course of nearly three months, until it was removed from the water on June 12.

Through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, NOAA evaluated injuries to natural resources and services resulting from the oil spill. Pacific herring eggs and larvae were injured and shellfish harvesting at a local beach was impacted. 

Two restoration projects were identified to compensate for those losses. Those projects will:

  • Remove marine debris from shorelines adjacent to Pacific herring spawning habitat in Sitka Sound to compensate for injuries to herring
  • Provide additional funding for an existing shellfish monitoring program that provides information about environmental changes and seafood safety to local Tribes and communities. 

A final Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (PDF, 133 pages) was published in January 2020, describing the injury determination and restoration.

The responsible party for the spill, Samson Tug & Barge, reached their limit of liability for the incident, so NOAA submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC), which administers the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, for assessment costs and funding to implement the restoration projects. This month, NOAA reached a settlement with the NPFC and will receive $1.3 million dollars, nearly $1 million of which will be used to fund marine debris removal and shellfish monitoring restoration projects in and around Sitka. 

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