British Columbia

Simushir, fuel-laden Russian cargo ship, under tow off Haida Gwaii

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel is towing an incapacitated Russian cargo ship away from B.C.'s Haida Gwaii coast. There were fears the ship, laden with hundreds of tonnes of bunker and diesel fuel, could run aground.

More vessels expected to join the towing operation

Russian cargo ship under tow

9 years ago
Duration 2:21
After a tense night and day, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel is pulling the Simushir away from the Haida Gwaii coast

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Gordon Reid has managed to secure a line and is towing the incapacitated Russian cargo ship Simushir away from the Haida Gwaii coast, according to officials with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.

Navy Lt. Paul Pendergast told CBC News Friday night that the two vessels were moving away from land at a speed of approximately 1.5 nautical miles per hour. The Gordon Reid arrived at 3 p.m. PT, but the crew had a hard time getting a line on the Simushir. 

"The conditions are very challenging out there and that's why it did take some time to get the vessel under tow, but they have done that now and they are moving away from land and away from danger at this time," he said.

Three other vessels currently en route to the scene have greater tow capability than the Gordon Reid and are expected to arrive early Saturday morning, Pendergast said.

Ship adrift since late Thursday

The 135-metre cargo ship, laden with hundreds of tonnes of bunker and diesel fuel, spent most of Friday adrift without power off the west coast of Haida Gwaii — which used to be known as the Queen Charlotte Islands prompting fears the vessel could run aground.

At 12:30 p.m. PT, the captain, who was reported to be injured, was taken from the ship by helicopter to Sandspit. (MARPAC/Facebook)

The ship, which had left Everett, Wash., and was bound for Russia, lost power late Thursday night in gale force winds.

As of Friday morning, the Russian bulk carrier vessel Simushir was at the whim of wind and waves about 25 kilometres off Moresby Island's Tasu Sound, according to the Canadian Forces' Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.

Officials said Friday afternoon that efforts were underway to get the ship's engine running again, but winds could push the vessel closer to land in the meantime.

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said storm warnings remain in effect for the area and the wind, which had been gusting from the southwest, would be changing direction overnight.

Winds from the west are expected Friday night in the area of the stranded ship, represented by the orange spot in this precipitation forecast image. (CBC)

"They'll be shifting, coming in straight from the west, meaning pushing against the ship, pushing it towards to east," she said Friday afternoon. "Really, the next 12 hours will be critical with the changing weather conditions."

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said her ministry received news of the situation at around 6 a.m. Friday, and that preparations are being made in the event of a fuel spill.

"The province is also contacting its partners in the B.C. Pacific States Oil Spill Task Force both to notify them of the risk and to ask them to provide mutual aid as needed based on the outcome of efforts to restore power to the vessel,” a statement from her ministry said.

Acting Sub.-Lt. Ron MacDougall said the Simushir is carrying "a range of hydrocarbons, mining materials and other related chemicals," which includes 400 tons of bunker oil and 50 tons of diesel.

Ship's captain injured

Ten crew members remained on board Friday night, hours after the ship's captain, who was reported to be injured, was taken from the ship for medical treatment.

The Canadian Coast Guard said a CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from 19 Wing Comox was dispatched to the ship and transported the captain to Sandspit at around 12:30 p.m. PT.

In addition to the offshore coast guard ship Gordon Reid, which reached the Simushir Friday afternoon, a U.S. tugboat company, Foss Marine Ltd., dispatched the tug Barbara Foss from Prince Rupert early Friday.

The tug and another coast guard vessel, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier, are expected to arrive at the Simushir early Saturday morning, officials said.

Various other coast guard vessels, including the CCGS Bartlett, the CCGS Arrow Post and the CCGS W.E. Ricker, were in various stages of being readied and deployed, a statement from the Canadian Coast Guard said Friday afternoon.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre also asked the MV North Star, which was in the area earlier in the day, to remain on scene.

The coast guard said it was making preparations to mount an incident command post, in the event that a spill response is required.

The U.S. Coast Guard also dispatched a helicopter to Sandspit, on the main island of Haida Gwaii.

Haida Nation alarmed

Early Friday, the Council of the Haida Nation issued an emergency alert about the possibility of the ship making landfall.

We're scared. We're scared about what this could mean. It's the worst scenario possible.- Council of the Haida Nation president Peter Lantin

Rescue officials said at the time that the ship was drifting parallel to the coast so there was no imminent threat of it running aground, but the Haida Nation called the situation dire, and was concerned the ship could hit the B.C. coast before help arrived.

CHN President [kil tlaast’gaa] Peter Lantin said Friday afternoon that the possibility of an impact with land is their worst fear coming true. Lantin said the amount of time the response was taking casts doubt on the Northern Gateway pipeline project's promises of world-class oil tanker safety.

"There's nothing world class about it. The fact that 20 hours is the earliest estimated time of arrival for anybody just reinforces what we have been saying all along," Lantin said in a Skype interview from Haida Gwaii.

"The systems in place are not adequate, and it's a joke. It's a joke to think they could ramp up the amount of tankers through our territory and convince us that there's world class systems in place to respond. We're scared. We're scared about what this could mean. It's the worst scenario possible."

With files from The Canadian Press and the Associated Press