Alaska island residents support oil spill cleanup efforts
Dec. 16, 2004
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
A UMNS photo by Ken Wilson
The freighter Selendang Ayu floats in two pieces in Makushin Bay, Unalaska Island.
Methodists and others living in the land known as the “birthplace of
the storms” are working to stave off the environmental impact of an oil
spill in Alaska.
freighter ran aground Dec. 8, spilling oil onto the shores of Unalaska
Island. Unalaska is in the Aleutian Islands, about 800 miles southwest
of Anchorage. The military and federal and state agencies are involved
in the cleanup efforts, which include fighting an oil slick.
Malaysian cargo ship Selendang Ayu was transporting soybeans when it
lost power in turbulent weather. The ship came apart on the northern
shore of the island, near fisheries and a sea lion habitat. Officials
had feared that up to 140,000 gallons of heavy fuel had leaked out of
the ship, but that estimate was lowered to 40,000 gallons as of Dec. 14.
Though the disaster was not as extensive as first thought, it still
involved in cleanup and support efforts are the 54 members of Unalaska
United Methodist Church, the only United Methodist church on the island
of 4,087 people. The church began on the island in the Bering Sea in
1880, when Methodists opened a school, clinic and the Jesse Lee Home for
orphans. The island is part of the Alaska Missionary Conference of the
United Methodist Church and is recognized both as a regional
transportation hub and an international trade center.
oil spill will impact our shoreline,” said the Rev. Kathy Wilson,
pastor of the Unalaska congregation and the volunteer chaplain to the
local U.S. Coast Guard unit. Wildlife experts are examining the
coastline to assess the damage to marine life, she said.
slick is believed to have killed at least seven birds and other
animals, including a sea otter. Wilson said two birds were sent to
Anchorage for treatment.
Map by UMNS
tragedy is very sad both in loss of human life and in the impact to
God’s creation because it is pristine and beautiful here,” she said.
“This type of thing is unsettling to the people. The ministry that we
have been able to do involves not only the people involved in the
tragedy, but the people on the island as well.”
population is 7 percent Native Aleut, 13 percent Hispanic, 19 percent
Asian/Pacific Islander and 61 percent Caucasian.
the freighter stranded, six crewmembers were lost when a Coast Guard
helicopter crashed after lifting them off the vessel Dec. 8. They are
presumed dead. Four other people were rescued, including the three
was able to have time with four of the U.S. Coast Guardsmen who
survived,” Wilson said. Her position as chaplain is to “respond to what
the Coast Guard needs and help in any way that I can,” she explained.
Unalaska church will continue to help feed the Coast Guardsmen and
others involved in the cleanup. The church also will participate in a
Christmas Day meal with community leaders for area residents and others
who are on the island responding to the disaster.
role here has been very important,” Wilson said. “It has been an honor
and a blessing to be here and respond in any way that we can as the
United Methodist Church.”
A UMNS photo by Ken Wilson
The Rev. Kathy Wilson
to Wilson, a member of the congregation, concerned about the welfare of
the freighter’s crew, spearheaded a campaign that netted clothing,
shoes and calling cards to enable the crewmembers to call home. “The
ship broke in half, and they were left with nothing,” Wilson said.
congregation also used its Dec. 12 Christmas Cantata to honor both the
survivors and the dead. Some of the freighter’s crewmembers attended the
service, Wilson said.
people and agencies are involved in the cleanup and trying to secure
the freighter, but they have been hampered by the weather. “The weather
out here is so vicious,” Wilson said. “We are called the birthplace of
High winds and waves complicated damage assessment. A salvage team was finally able to board the freighter Dec. 14.
to an Agence France-Presse report, the Alaska spill was “potentially
the worst to hit Alaska since the tanker Exxon Valdez hit a reef in
Prince William Bay in 1989, sending more than 40 million liters (10.4
million gallons) of oil into the ocean.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.