British Columbia

Specialty crew from Florida joins cleanup effort at site of Nootka Sound shipwreck oil leak

A specialty team from Florida has joined the efforts to clean up and contain an oil leak from a shipwreck in B.C.’s Nootka Sound, off the coast of Vancouver Island. 

'Peanut butter'-like oil being removed using pitchforks and shovels

An oily sheen from the MV Schiedyk is pictured off the coast of B.C.'s Bligh Island in late 2020. (Spill Response B.C.)

A specialty team from Florida has joined the efforts to clean up and contain an oil leak from a shipwreck in B.C.'s Nootka Sound, off the coast of Vancouver Island. 

The MV Schiedyk sank near Bligh Island in 1968 and has sat there ever since. When it went down, it had 35 tonnes of fuel on board. 

The leak, discovered late last year, has released up to 11 litres of oil into the water each day, according to Paul Barrett, federal unified commander for the Bligh Island shipwreck response with the Canadian Coast Guard.

Crews from the coast guard, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and local First Nations have been working on the cleanup for four months. 

Since December, they've placed over seven kilometres of protection booming throughout the area.

Protection booming is seen in this photo from December on site near Bligh Island, B.C., where a shipwreck has been leaking oil into the Pacific Ocean. (Supplied by Spill Response B.C.)

Now, specialists from Florida's Resolve Marine Group have joined the team.

"So far they've done some non-intrusive survey work of the vessel, that includes some video work with [remotely operated underwater vehicles] that included ultrasound testing to check the thickness of the plating and some patching," Barrett told All Points West host Kathryn Marlow.

"As of Monday, we reached a real pinnacle point with patching and we have seen a lot less oil as of this morning and throughout the day. So, big steps."

Barrett described the oil as thick like "peanut butter," making it easy to catch. Crews have been able to retrieve spilled oil with pitchforks and shovels, put it in bags and remove it from the site. 

"The product's weathered for the last 50 years ... and it's gotten thicker and thicker."

New footage shows oil leaking from 52-year-old wrecked cargo ship off B.C. coast

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5 months ago
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The MV Schiedyk has begun to leak oil into the area surrounding Bligh Island, which is now a provincial marine park. 1:01

The mission for the American crew is to assess the wreck, patch areas with leaks, and drill holes into the vessel to look for remaining oil.

Barrett said this is not an unusual task for the coast guard. Oil leaks on the Manolis L in Newfoundland and the Brig.-Gen. M.G. Zalinski near Prince Rupert both involved the coast guard patching sunken vessels and removing oil from the water. Both those situations involved hot tapping, where divers install a tap and valve on the tank and pump warm water into it, displacing the oil to be pumped out.

Barrett is unsure whether that will be required here.

"It really depends on what the technical assessment comes back telling us."

The technical assessment is expected to be completed in the next nine days.

Once the spill is cleaned up, the shipwreck will be left in Nootka Sound. Barret said it's best to leave the structure and remove any harmful materials to prevent future leaks.

"The moment you try to lift wrecks they stand the real potential of disintegrating and coming apart."

To hear the full interview with Paul Barrett, click here: 

Cleanup crews from Coast Guard, DFO and local First Nations have been onsite for months at a 51-year-old shipwreck that is leaking oil in Nootka Sound. Now, a specialized team from Florida is helping with the effort. Paul Barrett with the Canadian Coast Guard and the Federal Unified Commander for the Bligh Island Shipwreck response gave Kathryn Marlow an update. 5:58

With files from All Points West

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