Aoyagi Maru, Lost Harbor

Aoyagi Maru, Lost Harbor

by | Jun 25, 2021

Aoyagi Maru is a Japanese flagged refrigerant ship that grounded on the south shore of Lost Harbor on Akun Island, about 135 miles (218 km) southwest of Cold Bay and 9 miles (14.5 km) northeast of Akutan, Alaska. Lost Harbor is a protected embayment about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) across on the northeast shore of  Akutan Bay. Akutan Bay separates Akutan and Akun Islands, two of the Fox Islands in the eastern Aleutians.

In the 1920s, Lost Harbor was the site of the only sulfur mine on the west coast of North America. Sulfur is a chemical element used to make matches, insecticides, and fungicides. The greatest commercial use is to produce sulfuric acid, mostly to make sulfate and phosphate fertilizers. The Alaska Sulphur Company, based in Chicago, started mining sulfur on Akun Island in 1919. The mine used 14 different drifts to access about 560,000 tons of ore. A tramway about 2 miles (3.2 km) long was built to transport the ore from the mine to tidewater where the ore was refined and loaded onto steamers for shipment south. The mine operated year-round and employed 80 to 100 men. The mining camp contained a smelter, tramway, machine shop, commissary, bunkhouse, and several other buildings.

On December 10, 1988, Aoyagi Maru was tied up alongside the anchored Bering Trader and transferring processed pollock. The Bering Trader was 350 feet long, the largest-capacity seafood processor in Alaskan waters in its day, and owned by the Louis Kemp Seafood Company. A winter storm was blowing causing the Bering Trader’s anchor to drag. The vessels were forced to separate but the mooring lines fouled Aoyagi Maru’s propeller, rendering the ship powerless and adrift. She eventually grounded on a rocky beach and the hull was ruptured with holes in the engine room and two of its three cargo holds. Despite the extremely inclement weather, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Rush was on the scene by December 11 to rescue the crew of 19. It was December 15 before the weather permitted observers to reach the vessel. Reports indicated only a sheen around the vessel and minimal pollution, with seawater in the flooded hull hydraulically supporting the Bunker C fuel oil. On March 19, 1989, the U.S. Coast Guard ignited explosives to burn off the 100,000 gallons (378,541 L) of fuel oil remaining aboard and the cargo of 74,000 pounds (33,565 kg) of rotting cod. Read more here and here. Explore more of Lost Harbor and Akun Island here:

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