Nova Scotia

SS Arrow leaks oil in Chedabucto Bay 45 years after sinking off Nova Scotia

Divers are removing 20,000 litres of oil left over from one of Nova Scotia's worst oil spills, 45 years after the ship sank in Chedabucto Bay.

'Very thick and viscous' oil coming unstuck from Liberian-flagged ship that sank in 1970

Divers are removing 20,000 litres of oil left over from one of Nova Scotia's worst oil spills, 45 years after the ship at the centre of the disaster sank in Chedabucto Bay.

The SS Arrow went down in heavy rain and wind in February 1970 after the Liberian-flagged tanker struck rocks. Crews pumped it out then, but earlier this month officials spotted oil on the water.

Ryan Green, acting superintendent of environmental response with the Atlantic region of the Canadian Coast Guard, says a team of four divers take turns swimming into the wreck and cleaning the oil out.

"We didn't expect anything, because it had never leaked before," Green said on Monday.

"Inside the ship, the oil is very thick and viscous and it's a challenge to get it out. It sticks to the inside and over the last 40 years it's come free and risen to the surface."

They've removed about 6,000 litres of oil, meaning about 14,000 litres likely remains in the sunken ship. 

'It's a very difficult job'

They want to get the rest of it removed as soon as possible, but the conditions are difficult. Divers can only work in 90-minute stretches and must dive 15 metres into the wreck.

"It's a very difficult job," Green said. "They have to be careful all the time. They're in a very challenging position inside the wreck."

Green says the vessel is no longer leaking. The divers can remove about 3,000 litres per day when conditions are good, so they need at least six more good days.

Green said they don't know how much leaked before they noticed it. At times, about 200 litres were spotted on the water.

"Our goal is to remove as much as possible so it's not a major threat," he said. 

The Arrow was heading from Venezuela for Cape Breton with 108,000 barrels of oil. The captain had no charts and a malfunctioning radar, and wound up steering the ship on top of a submerged rock.

The spill contaminated 300 kilometres of Nova Scotia coastline. It was the biggest such disaster in Canada at the time. Much of the oil was left to wash away, but instead clung to beaches, plants and wildlife.

Heavy equipment used to clean the beaches ended up damaging them. The ill-handled response sparked the development of Canada's modern methods for dealing with oil spills.

The SS Arrow got stranded on a rock and sank off the Nova Scotia coast in 1970. (CBC)
The SS Arrow is shown submerged in this footage. (CBC)

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