Nfld. & Labrador

Crews to remove oil from decades-old shipwreck off Newfoundland coast

It's been more than three decades since the ship sank off the coast of Notre Dame Bay.

Oil has been leaking from the sunken vessel in Notre Dame Bay since 2013

The Manolis L sank in 1985 near Change Islands in Notre Dame Bay. (Courtesy Maritime History Archive, Memorial University)

More than three decades after it sank off Newfoundland's picturesque Notre Dame Bay, work begins Tuesday to extract leaking bulk oil from the wreck of the Manolis L.

The paper carrier sank near Change Islands in 1985 in about 70 metres of water. It was dormant until April 2013, when fuel oil leaked from cracks in the hull during a powerful storm.

We're really excited to see this finally come to its conclusion.- Carolyn Parsons

The coast guard installed devices to plug leaks and catch oil, but small sheens in the water and oiled seabirds have been reported since 2013.

"We're really excited to see this finally come to its conclusion," Carolyn Parsons said Monday.

Parsons and other members of the Manolis L Citizen's Response Committee have been lobbying provincial and federal officials since the storm — writing letters, meeting with coast guard officials, and holding public events.

A 2016 technical assessment found there was 115 to 150 cubic metres of oil trapped in the wreck, along with about 60 cubic metres of diesel.

Ottawa awarded a $15-million contract to Ardent Global this spring.

Carolyn Parsons, part of the citizen's committee that has been pushing for a clean up for years, says the group's perseverance paid off. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Parsons said residents are happy to see the beginning of the end of lingering fears that a large oil leak could shut down the commercial fishery, or poison the natural environment that draws huge numbers of tourists to the area.

"There's been this threat hanging over all of that," Parsons said. "People are just really concerned that one day everything would be destroyed."

In 2015, documents showed that $1.7 million in federal money had already been spent trying to plug oil leaks in the sunken ship.

Look underneath the surface in this underwater video of a technical team assessing the shipwrecked Manolis L. 0:47

As work begins to diminish the environmental threat of the Manolis L wreck, recent legislation suggests that Canada's coastal communities may be less likely to be left holding the bag when derelict vessels are abandoned.

'Confident that they know what they're doing'

Last October, the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act was introduced in the House of Commons, making it illegal to abandon boats in Canada, and empowering the government to go after the owners of the 600 derelict vessels already polluting the country's waterways.

Earlier this year, the federal government announced additional funding to assess and remove dozens of other abandoned and wrecked boats in Newfoundland and British Columbia.

This Canadian Coast Guard environmental response team in Herring Neck is tasked with protecting the marine environment during the operation to extract the oil from the Manolis L. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Parsons said she's happy the new legislation will make it easier to address abandoned vessels, and is glad the community rallied to have the oil removed from the wreck before it becomes a dark spot on Notre Dame Bay's history.

"We didn't want a massive oil spill to be the thing media was writing about, we wanted this to be fixed," Parsons said.

"We're confident that they know what they're doing … It's better that the oil come out in a controlled manner than you know, some storm in June and have it on the shoreline."

Read more articles on CBC Newfoundland and Labrador