On December 10, 1991, Hurricane “Val” struck and caused widespread damage to the South Pacific Islands of American Samoa. During the storm, nine foreign-owned fishing vessels broke from their moorings and were driven aground on the reefs within Pago Pago Harbor on the island of Tutuila. Seven of the vessels grounded in a group about 100 yards from the village of Leloaloa, while two vessels grounded in the outer harbor on Breakers Point near the village of Aua. The grounded vessels range from 125 to 160 feet and 300 to 350 gross tons. Surveys completed within the past two years found that the wrecks vary dramatically in condition. Some remain upright with their hulls intact, while others have broken up. According to a USCG assessment conducted on December 11, 1991, about 1,500 gallons of oil was discharged into the surrounding waters during the grounding incident.
The USCG’s immediate response to the 1991 grounding incident included removing an estimated 10,500 gallons of diesel, lube and hydraulic oil from three of the vessels. Rough weather prohibited further oil removal and these actions were stopped, leaving about 18,000 gallons of oil, as well as an undetermined amount of ammonia associated with onboard refrigeration systems, on the vessels.
Following the groundings, the USCG received several reports of sheening and/or small discharges (5 to 10 gallons) of oil from the abandoned vessels. Specific instances were reported to the USCG in February 1997 and on June 5, 1997, June 16, 1997, September 10, 1997, and December 6, 1997. In addition, the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency received many additional reports of small discharges from the vessels following the groundings. On or about May 19, 1999, the USCG determined that the nine vessels “continue to pose a substantial threat to the fragile environment” and that it intended to eliminate the risk of pollutant discharge by removing all ammonia and oil from the vessels.
The middle of the three vessels (vessel number 5) is featured prominently in the center of the photograph. A portion of vessel number 4 is visible at the right edge of the photograph. The bow of vessel number 6 is visible at the left edge of the photograph.