Nova Scotia

Australian Spirit expected to arrive in Halifax Thursday night

An oil tanker adrift off Halifax being towed to shore is expected to arrive Thursday night, about two days after it lost steering.

Tugs arrived at the tanker, which was about 40 nautical miles off Chebucto Head, on Tuesday evening

The Australian Spirit is shown being towed toward Halifax. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Twitter)

An oil tanker adrift off Halifax being towed to shore is expected to arrive Thursday night, about two days after it lost steering.

"The vessel will move nice and slowly to Halifax," said Jonathan Anthony, a spokesperson for Teekay Corp., the Vancouver-based company that owns the tanker.

The Australian Spirit never lost power, so it is moving under its own propulsion, with two tugs steering it, said Anthony.

"Overnight, the weather has improved, with reduced wind speed," he wrote in an email at 11 a.m. Thursday.

"There continues to be no danger to the crew and cargo, which are safe."

Towing started on Thursday morning. Teekay Corp. didn't yet know how long repairs would take or where the ship would be berthed while that happens, said Anthony.

A spokesperson for the Halifax Port Authority said that receiving the tanker as the closest port of call was a rare occurrence, but procedures were in place to handle it smoothly.

Tugs arrived at the tanker, which was about 40 nautical miles off Chebucto Head, on Tuesday evening. It was travelling from Placentia, N.L., to New York, when it lost steering late that afternoon.

Halifax a port of refuge

Two tugs, the Venture Sea and the Atlantic Larch, ended up assisting in the operation. The operation used company-funded commercial tugs.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Coast Guard said the rough weather caused by a storm creeping through the Maritimes made repairs to the steering impossible while at sea. Senior response officer Keith Laidlaw said there were gale force winds and four-metre waves.

The Australian Spirit was carrying 90,000 tonnes of crude oil when it lost steering, with nearly two dozen crew aboard. Laidlaw said the Coast Guard was monitoring the situation but there was no immediate risk.

"Obviously the vessel’s carrying a large quantity of persistent oil, so that is a concern to us," said Laidlaw.

Teekay said the vessel was not in the way of shipping lanes when it lost power, and it will remain away from shipping traffic during the tug operation.

Once it reaches Halifax, the tanker will be tugged straight through to the Bedford Basin, said Port of Halifax spokesperson Lane Farguson.

"What will happen then is she will be anchored in the Bedford Basin area, and from there it will be up to the vessel captain and owner to determine what they want to do next," he said.

Halifax is considered a port of refuge in this situation, said Farguson.

"We do have procedures for that kind of event," he said.

"It is certainly an infrequent occurrence, but it does show the advantage of ports like Halifax that are multi-faceted marine service ports that can accommodate this type of situation."

When the tanker is manoeuvred through The Narrows to the Bedford Basin, "certainly they would be connected to her with a tether line to be sure they have control of her during the transit," said Farguson.

The Halifax port is in its slow season without cruise ship traffic, and the tug operation won't disrupt Thursday's activities at the seaport, he said.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, the tanker was about 50 kilometres or about 25 nautical miles from the coast.

The tanker's progress can be tracked here.

The Coast Guard could not be reached for comment. At about 3 p.m., Fisheries and Oceans Canada wrote on Twitter it continued to monitor the situation, and posted photos of the tanker being towed.

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