British Columbia

Fuel to be removed from submerged tug boat in Bella Bella

Crews hope to begin removing the remaining fuel aboard a tug boat that ran aground in the waters near Bella Bella so the Nathan E. Stewart can be lifted from the ocean and onto a barge for transport.

Nathan E. Stewart ran aground Oct. 13, 2016, is scheduled to be lifted onto a barge for transport

The Nathan E. Stewart articulated tug/barge was southbound from Alaska when it ran aground at Edge Reef near Athlone Island on Oct. 13, 2016. (Western Canada Marine Response Corporation)

On Monday, crews hope to begin removing the remaining fuel aboard a tug boat that ran aground in the waters near Bella Bella — allowing the Nathan E. Stewart to be lifted from the ocean and onto a barge for transport.

"[The] tug is considered in a stable position; it is sitting on the bottom with a roughly 12 [degree] list to port, and is not currently moving in the swell," read the latest report from the unified command centre for the spill.

The Nathan E. Stewart and the empty fuel barge DBL 55 crashed on Edge Reef, in Seaforth Channel near Athlone Island, just after 1 a.m. PT on Thursday. Both are owned by the U.S. company Kirby Offshore Marine and were heading south from Alaska when the accident occurred.

While the fuel barge was empty, the tug leaked some of the nearly 200,000 litres of fuel it had left port with.

"There are primary and secondary booms that are insuring that no new fuel is being leaked from the tug is contaminating Heiltsuk waters," said Jess Housty, an elected tribal councillor for the First Nation. "But we are still struggling to contain the diesel that was spilled."

Crews are waiting for hot taps to arrive on Monday — equipment that will allow the fuel to be safely pumped off the vessel tomorrow  — then the plan is to bring in a crane to lift the tug boat onto a separate barge to be removed.

Meanwhile, close to 25,000 litres of fuel, which was pumped from the tug onto the fuel barge will also need to be removed. DBL 55 has been moved to a safe anchorage, at the mouth of Dundavan Inlet according to the report.

"I think time is of the essence here," said Housty. 

"We've got shoreline response crews out. We are assessing weather, recovering the diesel that's out in the wider waters that's possible. We have huge concerns about wildlife in the area."

Housty says killer whales were spotted near the tug on Sunday, highlighting the wildness of the area and concerns about the impact of the spill.

"I think it's easy to understand that this is an environmental issue, for us it's also an economic issue in terms of clam fisherman who have their livelihood jeopardized by this," said Housty.

On Friday, Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the fisheries in the area, which came as no surprise to the Heiltsuk, which said Thursday it was worried about the risk the spill would pose to local clam beds.

"I didn't think my heart could break so many ways in one day since we've been responding to this," said Housty who added she is optimistic that the tug could be moved by the end of the week.

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, Transport Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and B.C.'s Ministry of Environment are all working with the Heiltsuk First Nation on the response.