A barge carrying diesel is adrift in the Beaufort Sea, after it broke away from its tugboat during a severe storm Monday.

The U.S. Coast Guard in Anchorage, Alaska says the 134-foot barge was heading to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., when it broke away in Canadian waters.

The coast guard says the tug continued on because of concern for the crew in the storm, while winds pushed the barge west into U.S. waters. 

Officials say the barge was 32 kilometres off Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, as of Friday evening, and is continuing west towards North Slope communities, including Barrow.

No one is on the barge, which is owned by Northern Transportation Company Ltd. of Hay River, N.W.T.

"The storm that came up was unforecasted," said Patrick Schmidt, president of NTCL. "Nobody seemed to see it coming."

The barge was returning to Tuktoyaktuk after delivering supplies to a remote site along the Canadian coastline. It is unloaded, although it is carrying 3,500 litres of light diesel in fuel tanks for its own engines.

Officials say they've seen the fuel tanks on board were intact.

The U.S. Coast Guard, along with the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and Environment Canada, are monitoring the vessel.        

Cmdr. Shawn Decker, with the U.S. Coast Guard, says it could be difficult to retrieve the barge because the ice is forming fast on the Beaufort Sea, and officials have few vessel options.      

"This time of year, our water assets are very limited in that region, so right now we are looking for other means to potentially track it," Decker said. 

"And then when it does — or if it does — come in contact with the shoreline at that point we can take action on it."

Officials say the area has seen 3.5 metre seas, with 40 km/h winds.

Corrections

  • The headline on a previous version of this story said the barge was loaded with diesel fuel. The barge is unloaded, but is carrying diesel fuel for its engines.
    Oct 24, 2014 1:17 PM CT
with files from Canadian Press