PRINCE RUPERT, British Columbia — A disabled Russian container ship carrying hundreds of tons of fuel is adrift again but officials said Saturday there is no immediate risk of it reaching shore, hitting rocks and causing a spill.
Royal Canadian Navy Lt. Greg Menzies said a tow line from the Coast Guard ship Gordon Reid got detached, but he noted that the Russian vessel is now 24 nautical miles (44 kilometers) away from shore. Menzies said efforts are under way to get the line re-attached.
The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar were also on to assist if needed, while an ocean-going tugboat was expected to arrive in the area late Saturday or early Sunday.
The Russian carrier Simushir lost power off Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as it made its way from Everett in Washington state to Russia.
The Gordon Reid secured a towline Friday night and the two vessels were moving away from the coastline at two knots (3.7 kilometers per hour) in 3- to 4-meter (10 to 12-foot) swells earlier Saturday. Officials said the outcome was subject to weather, but the danger has been lessened.
“The further they get away from the coast and the nearer the larger tug gets the better,” Acting Sub. Lt. Ron MacDougall said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his thanks for the “great work” the Gordon Reid ship is doing off the coast.
The ship was drifting northwest in stormy seas Friday, away from shore, after losing power late Thursday, officials said.
The fear of oil spills is especially acute in British Columbia, where residents remember the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989. Such worries have fed fierce opposition – particularly from environmentalists and Canada’s native tribes – to a current proposal to build a pipeline that would carry oil from Canada’s Alberta oil sands to a terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast for shipment to Asia. Opponents say the proposed pipeline would bring about 220 large oil tankers a year to the province’s coast.
The president of the Council of the Haida Nation had warned Friday that a storm coming into the area was expected to push the ship onto the rocky shore, but later President Pete Lantin said their worst fears have subsided.
“If the weather picks up it could compromise that, but as of right now there is a little sense of relief that we might have averted catastrophe here,” Lantin said.
About 5,000 people live on the island and fish for food nearby, Lantin said.
Roger Girouard, an assistant commissioner with the Canadian Coast Guard, said their top concern was the fuel and diesel oil onboard and the risk that the ship could hit the rocks and break apart.
He earlier said if the ship did come apart the rough seas would break up the oil “so we would have an ally there. It’s cold weather so we don’t have a lot of migratory species right at the moment.”
He said they have been already moving assets to the region to respond should the break apart and spill.
MacDougall said the Simushir, which is about 440 feet (135 meters) long, was carrying “a range of hydrocarbons, mining materials and other related chemicals.” That included 400 tons of bunker oil and 50 tons of diesel.
The vessel is not a tanker but rather a container ship. In comparison, the tanker Exxon Valdez, spilled out 35,000 metric tons of oil.
A spokesman for Russian shipping firm SASCO, the owners of the vessel, said it is carrying 298 containers of mining equipment in addition to heavy bunker fuel as well as diesel oil onboard for the voyage.
The U.S. Coast Guard had a helicopter on standby in the event that 10 crew members need to be pulled off the ship. Officials said the injured captain was evacuated by helicopter, but they were given no further medical details.
The Haida Nation said it had set up an emergency command center in Old Massett, located on the northern tip of Haida Gwaii, in case the vessel runs aground.
The Simushir is registered in Kholmsk, Russia, and owned by SASCO, also known as Sakhalin Shipping Company, according to the company’s website. The SASCO website says the ship was built in the Netherlands in 1998.
One thought on “Container ship towed but now drifting again off Canadian coast”
“The Russian carrier Simushir lost power off Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as it made its way from Everett in Washington state to Russia.”
“…he noted that the Russian vessel is now 24 nautical miles (44 kilometers) away from shore.”
Sure didn’t get far.
Made in China engines?