British Columbia

B.C. barge operator told to inspect sunken wreckage

The operator of a barge that listed and spilled its load in a B.C. coastal ecological reserve has been asked to inspect the sunken contents for any environmental hazards.

The operator of a barge that listed and spilled its load in a B.C. coastal ecological reserve has been asked to inspect the sunken contents for any environmental hazards.

B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said Thursday the Regional Environmental Emergency Team, which includes federal, provincial and local agencies, issued the directive at the urging of his ministry during a meeting this week.

A Burrard Clean Operations vessel left Robson Bight on Aug. 21, after completing the cleanup operation. ((Terry Milewski/CBC))

Environmental groups and whale-watching companies had complained that no attempts were being made to investigate the wreckage and determine the extent of the cleanup required.

Penner said Ted LeRoy Trucking is being asked to "send down a submersible with photographic equipment" and to do a side sonar scan to better understand the condition of the equipment located on the bottom of the sea bed.

He said if the company chooses not to comply, the Coast Guard has the legal authority to order it carried out.

The barge spilled its load on Aug. 20 in the Robson Bight ecological reserve northeast of Vancouver Island, including a fuel truck holding an estimated 10,000 litres of diesel.

Greenpeace, the Living Oceans Society and other groups said while some fuel has spilled, 9,000 litres could still be at the bottom of the ocean.

Orcas were seen swimming through a giant fuel slick in Johnstone Strait but officials said they observed no changes in the whales' behaviour and no evidence of diesel residue on the shoreline.

Penner said officials are waiting to hear the barge operator's response.

"It's located at a depth of more than 1,000 feet below the surface, so the engineers that were advising REET (Regional Environmental Emergency Team) have said that with that amount of water pressure on top of the equipment, it's very likely that the fuel tanks would have imploded," Penner said.

"Nevertheless, I think it's in the public interest to take a closer look at the condition of the equipment to determine whether there is any remaining fuel on board and whether there is something that can be done to minimize the risk of further spillage," he said.

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