Sara Francis  /  AP
The 738-foot tanker Golden Seas, seen here in an image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, was making slow progress through 20-foot seas north of Adak Island Alaska Friday.
updated 6/30/2013 8:37:53 PM ET 2013-07-01T00:37:53

A disabled cargo container ship carrying thousands of gallons of fuel oil and canola seeds near Alaska's remote Aleutian Islands began moving again on limited engine power late Friday, responders said.

The 738-foot Golden Seas had been drifting toward shore in rough seas.

It was in the Bering Sea about 28 miles north of Atka Island when improving weather allowed it to begin moving away from shore at about 4 mph, according to the Coast Guard and other responders.

A powerful commercial towing vessel was expected to reach the ship about mid-day Saturday while a Coast Guard cutter was expected by Sunday afternoon.

Engine failure early Friday disabled the vessel, which is managed by Allseas Marine, based in Athens, Greece.

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Responders said the vessel was left with limited power, but not enough to overcome 29-foot seas and winds blowing at 45 mph.

'Buys us some time'
Conditions calmed later in the day, allowing the ship to make headway and potentially avoid running aground before help arrives.

"That buys us some time," Coast Guard Capt. Jason Fosdick told reporters at a news conference.

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A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft flew over the Golden Seas and confirmed it was under way and moving away from land, Petty Officer David Mosley said.

Mosley said the Liberia-flagged ship is carrying more than 457,500 gallons of fuel oil, nearly 12,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil. It was also carrying canola seed, though it was not known how much.

There were no immediate reports of injuries among the 20 crew members on board.

The ship is bound from Vancouver, Canada, to the United Arab Emirates, the Coast Guard said.

The cutter Alex Haley and the towing vessel, the Tor Viking II, headed to the Golden Seas from Dutch Harbor, about 350 miles away. Atka is about 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Mosley said concern about the vessel going aground in nearby islands prompted the agency to work with the owner to contract a towing vessel to assist.

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Difficult conditions
The ship had been drifting to the southeast at about 2 mph, Mosley said.

The Golden Seas is the latest example of the challenges involved in responding to incidents in the remote region, said Whit Sheard, an Oceana attorney who sits on the Aleutian Island Risk Assessment Advisory Panel, established with criminal settlement funds from the grounding of the Selendang Ayu six years ago.

The ship, the same size of the Golden Seas, ran aground Dec. 8, 2004, and broke apart on the north side of Unalaska Island, also in the Aleutians. About 66,000 tons of soybeans were lost.

During rescue operations, a rogue wave crashed into a Coast Guard helicopter lifting Selendang Ayu crew members from the freighter, and the aircraft crashed.

Six of the 10 freighter crew members were killed.

Sheard said emergencies such as Friday's event again illustrated the crucial need for better response mechanisms, such as larger tugs in the area.

Unalaska's Dutch Harbor is the only port in the region with a possible response vessel, according to Sheard, who was among those monitoring the response to the Golden Seas.

"The concern here is we'll have another major accident like the Selendang Ayu," he said.

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