North

Salluit, Que., fears for wildlife as fuel cleanup continues

People in Salluit, Nunavik are fearing for the safety of marine life as crews continue to clean up thousands of litres of diesel fuel.

Coast Guard says fuel spill off Salluit 'pretty exceptional' but cleanup has been effective

The Canadian Coast Guard says the diesel fuel spill in the waters off Salluit, Nunavik, was 'pretty exceptional' but containment measures have been effective. (Submitted by Transport Desgagnés)

People in the Northern Quebec community of Salluit are waiting to hear how a spill of thousands of litres of diesel fuel into the waters off their coast might affect the health of marine life.

"I hope it's going to be OK," said Mayor Paulusie Saviadjuk, "because we are told from the government not to fish, not to hunt, not to pick mussels right now."

On Wednesday night, the M/T Sarah Desgagnés was nearly finished offloading 1.8-million litres of diesel fuel when the weather took a turn for the worse. 

Transport Desgagnés, the company that owns the vessel, said the crew took emergency measures to disconnect the fuel hose, but during that process, the wind and choppy waters caused a propeller from the M/T Sarah Desgagnés to sever the line. 

"In terms of the size of the spill, in terms of how this happened, it's pretty exceptional," said J. J. Brickett, the superintendent for environmental response for the Central and Arctic region for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Emergency containment 'effective'

The CCGS Terry Fox arrived to help with the clean up yesterday morning, aiding in setting up an emergency containment boom around the fuel. 

The crew from Transport Desgagnés was also working to remove the portion of fuel pipe which was still on the water. 

"The measures that were taken at the time were very effective [and there was] a little bit of luck too. With the hose sinking, it trapped the product inside," said Brickett.

"Certainly the weather worked in our favour. When you have a lot of wind and a lot of waves, that does a lot to break up the diesel."

Initially, it was estimated that up to 10,000 litres of fuel may have been spilled. Now, that has been downgraded. 

"With daylight, actually seeing the condition of the hose, seeing that there was actually still product in the hose, understanding better that they actually weren't pumping at the time that the hose was disconnected, we've got our estimate at 2,000 to 3,000 litres," said Brickett. 

Saviadjuk hopes that lower estimate holds true. 

"It was confusing, but then yesterday they told us that it might be more."

Environment Canada is planning to assess the environmental damage caused by the spill and Saviadjuk says a management team from Transport Desgagnés was also expected to arrive today. 

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