Nfld. & Labrador

Going down: Divers assess leaking Manolis L shipwreck

A 200-metre perimeter surrounds the shipwrecked Manolis L near Change Islands this week, as crews dive down to inspect the leaking ship.

Coast guard pollution response teams keep eyes peeled for oil

Divers assessing a controversial shipwreck near Change Islands in Notre Dame Bay are being protected by several Canadian Coast Guard pollution response vessels this week. 1:24

Divers assessing a controversial shipwreck near Change Islands in Notre Dame Bay are being protected by several Canadian Coast Guard pollution response vessels this week. 

"[It's] highly, highly unlikely. But in the event that oil does come to the surface, we're ready," said Anne Miller, incident commander with the Canadian Coast Guard. 

Representatives from the coast guard, Transport Canada, Environment Canada and several private contractors have established a 200-metre safety zone around the Manolis L to protect divers, and watch for any leaking oil. 

"We have two components. We have an incident command post set up in Twillingate, as well as a large on-water component here," said Miller.

Taking the plunge

A $5-million contract was awarded earlier this summer to the Florida-based company Resolve Marine Group, to dive down to the Manolis L and assess the ship's leaking hull.

Divers are drilling, collecting samples and installing plugs on various points along the hull. They're assessing just how much fuel is on board and where it's located. According to coast guard, the ship holds an estimated 500 tonnes of fuel.

Two divers get lowered down to the hull of the Manolis L shipwreck from the Maersk Cutter supply ship. (Canadian Coast Guard/Submitted)

Groups of two make five dives per day. While it takes about 10 minutes to reach the hull, divers can only stay down for 30 minutes. When they reach they surface, they must spend over an hour in a decompression tank. 

Pollution response vessels make regular site visits throughout the day while aerial surveillance flights observe overhead. Crews also regularly monitor the ship's cofferdam, a device used to catch leaking oil. 

"It's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it," said Bruce English with the Canadian Coast Guard. 

"It's an opportunity for crews to train, work together while we're here and practice these response tactics that could be used in the future for anything else that we're involved with."

Crews have set up a staging area at the local wharf in Herring Neck. English said the space is shared with local fishermen who "couldn't be more accommodating." 

'The water is very crystal clear'

Back at the coast guard office in Twillingate, a team follows the divers' progress in real time thanks to helmet cameras and video feeds from remotely operated vehicles [ROV]. 

About 20 people commute daily from Gander to go over the diver's findings. That includes Ray Fortin, a salvage master with Resolve Marine Group. 

The cofferdam can be seen here (left) resting on the deteriorating hull of the Manolis L. Ray Fortin says the water around the shipwreck is crystal clear. (Canadian Coast Guard/Submitted)

His company has been contracted to remove a capsized vessel in southern Chile, re-float a wrecked container ship in Indonesia and salvage a barge — and its 500 tonnes of cargo — in Qatar.

While the Manolis does present some challenges, Fortin said conditions underwater are ideal. 

"The water is very crystal clear," he said. 

"The surface is able to see what the divers are doing and everybody's able to work together, whereas a lot of time in black water, it's up to the divers' feel so this is a big help for us."

Representatives from the coast guard said they can't comment on the fate of the Manolis L until Resolve finishes it's assessment. The job is expected to be finished around Labour Day. 

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