The Canadian Coast Guard is investigating a spill of thousands of litres of diesel fuel that leaked into the waters off Salliut, Quebec, says Mayor Paulusie Saviadjuk.
"It's going to be cleaned up. That's for sure," says Saviadjuk. "Ten thousand litres is a lot of diesel."
Saviadjuk says he became aware of the spill last night shortly after 9:30 p.m., when a strong diesel smell began wafting into the Nunavik community.
"The ship, named M/T Sarah Desgagnés, came to Salluit to fill the fuel tanks with diesel," he explained.
It was during the transfer, Saviadjuk says, that the tanker's propeller snapped the hose.
"Because the wind picked up so high... the hose broke."
Saviadjuk believes between 2,400 to 10,000 litres spilled on the shore.
Company offers lower estimate
But Serge Le Guellec, the president and general manager of Transport Desgagnés, says the crew of the M/T Sarah Desgagnés was already in the process of disconnecting the hose when the incident occurred.
"The crew had pretty much completed the discharge operation of the diesel fuel when the weather took a turn with high winds arising and snowy conditions," Le Guellec said.
"As a precautionary measure they had to disconnect a floating hose that is used between the vessel and the shore."
Le Guellec said they had disconnected the hose and closed the valves on the shore, when the waves and movement of the vessel caused a portion of the line to be damaged by the "vessel props."
"As a result, diesel fuel was spilled to the water."
While he says it's too early to know exactly how much fuel may have escaped, Le Guellec has a much lower estimate: 2,000 to 3,000 litres.
Right now, the company says it has put out oil recovery booms to contain the spill.
Le Guellec says they hope to retrieve the damaged cargo hose before the end of today or on Friday.
"That's a bit more of a tricky operation," said Le Guellec. "We want to be very careful that when we retrieve the cargo hose we don't have fuel going into the water."
The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Terry Fox arrived in Salluit at around 8:30 on Thursday morning to help investigate the incident. The Coast Guard says when it arrived, there was no fuel on the shore.
Transport Canada is expected to fly over the area later today, the Coast Guard said in a news release.
This was the ship's last trip of the season and it was delivering about 1.8-million litres of fuel to the community.
"We had more or less about four- to five-thousand litres left."
While there are no signs of any injured marine animals at this time, Saviadjuk says he's concerned the seals, shellfish, and mussels the community relies on will be affected by the spill.
"The company will have to replace our fuel and also make sure they clean the affected area carefully," said Saviadjuk in Inuktitut.
"We harvest food from there.... and we rely on that. It's very important to us that it be cleaned and restored."
For now, Saviadjuk is warning residents to stay away from the shoreline and to postpone any boating trips.