Cofferdam no permanent fix for Manolis L: expert

A naval architect says it's only a matter of time before more oil leaks from the sunken paper carrier Manolis L.

Feds appear to back away from removing fuel from sunken vessel

The Manolis L ran aground and sank near Change Islands in Notre Dame Bay in 1985. (Courtesy Maritime History Archive, Memorial University)

A naval architect says it's only a matter of time before more oil leaks from the sunken paper carrier Manolis L.

KevinStowbridge says the cofferdam installed to capture fuel seeping from cracks in one of the vessel's tanks is far from a permanent fix.

"They'll be back," he told CBC, referring to environmental response crews with the Canadian Coast Guard. "100 per cent likelihood they'll be back within the next five years."

The Liberian-flagged Manolis L sank after running aground in January 1985 on Blow Hard Rock near Change Islands. It was loaded with more than 500 tonnes of fuel oil and diesel at the time.

It had remained virtually out of sight, out of mind until a major storm last spring, when oil first started surfacing above it. That lead to sporadic reports and sightings of slicks and oily ducks.

Naval architect Kevin Stowbridge says a cofferdam is not a permanent fix for the Manolis L. ((CBC))
Stowbridge predicts the rusting vessel will continue to leak for years to come.

"It's in shallow water. There's a lot of strong currents in the area. The leakage that's happening right now, that's one tank. That vessel's got many tanks on board. There's a lot of oil on board and it's going to come out."

The Coast Guard insists it's monitoring the area around the Manolis L for further signs of leakage, adding so far there are none.

It also appears a more permanent solution is off the table.

Two months ago, the Coast Guard announced it was talking to five companies about removing the fuel altogether. A similar operation off the coast of British Columbia last year cost $50 million.

But Newfoundland MP Scott Simms says that doesn't appear to be in the cards for Newfoundland.

"All that was put into motion. They had people down looking at it. Now all of a sudden we find ourselves, 'No, forget it. We're not doing that any more.'"

Simms says reports from the area around the Manolis L are troubling.

"Right now the people on the front line are bird hunters. They're out there, and as one person put it, they can smell the oil before they can see it. To me that says this is coming out in larger quantities than perhaps we're led to believe."

Fearing the worst

Twillingate fisherman and tour operator David Boyd fears the worst is yet to come.

"This is 2014. We're supposed to be environmentally sensitive to this kind of damage. The whole fishery of this area, the tourism, the pristine environment, it's all at risk."

In the House of Commons last week, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea had this to say:

"Mr. Speaker, we are committed to protecting our oceans from oil spills. We have made this clear through our efforts to establish a world-class tanker safety system," she said.

"The Coast Guard completed installing new seals on the Manolis L in January, along with new monitoring equipment. A complete survey of the hull was conducted, and no further leakage was detected. The Coast Guard is monitoring this situation closely and will take any necessary steps to protect the environment."


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