An American tug pushing an empty fuel barge has sunk after running aground near Bella Bella.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the tug Nathan E. Stewart hit ground on Edge Reef near Athlone Island just after 1 a.m. this morning.
Heiltsuk elected Chief Marilyn Slett says the tug sank completely just before 10 a.m., and that the Nation’s most recent estimate is that it has spilled more than 200,000 litres of fuel.
Slett says the area is environmentally sensitive, particularly for clam harvesting.
In a statement sent to CKNW Kirby’s incident commander confirmed the tug had a load of approximately 190,000 litres of diesel.
He says various response vessels, workboats, boom and oil skimmers have been deployed.
In a statement, owners Texas-based Kirby Corporation says the seven crew members aboard have now been safely transferred to a coast guard vessel.
“Kirby Offshore Marine, owners and managers of the Nathan E. Stewart regret that this incident has occurred and are working to respond and mitigate the impact of this incident.”
It says Western Canada Marine Response Corporation has now dispatched vessels with 2,500 feet of boom and crew from a base in Prince Rupert, and that it has also contracted salvage specialists Resolve Marine Group.
Questions directed to Kirby regarding the volume of fuel carried by the tug were not replied to.
Slett says it will take at least a full day for crews to make the more than 300km voyage.
“That will take at least 22 hours for them to get out here from Rupert. You know, that’s two tides that we’re dealing with in terms of movement of oil now that the tug has sunk.”
Slett says that response time is simply inadequate, and highlights the First Nation’s fears about allowing tanker traffic on the coast.
“It’s not acceptable. And these are the concerns that we had all the way through with the joint review panels with Enbridge and the other large scale energy companies that want to traverse through our waters, and it’s our community’s worst nightmare.”
But WCMRC disputes that timeline.
Spokesperson Michael Lowry says they were activated at 4:30 a.m., and a pair of smaller vessels based in Shearwater were dispatched this morning and have already deployed 500 meters of boom. He says says the crews from Prince Rupert should arrive by six this evening, 13 and a half hours after activation.
Slett says the Coast Guard is on scene along with the RCMP, but that the Heiltsuk haven’t seen the DFO. She says crews on the ground have been doing what they can about the spill, but simply don’t have the resources.
Slett says while they have major fears about the impact of the diesel, the situation could have been catastrophic if the barge the tug was pushing was loaded with petroleum products.
The DFO says conditions on the sea at the time of the grounding were rain, with visibility to about 13km, and winds at 9 knots.
It says the Coast Guard has deployed CCG ships Bartlett and John P. Tully, along with the motor lifeboat Cape St. James.
The Nathan E. Stewart is an Articulated Tug Barge (ATB), a 100 foot vessel that plugs into and pushes a 287 foot barge.
That barge is capable of carrying at least 5.5 million litres (35,000 barrels) of petroleum product, and makes regular trips through the inside passage between the north coast and Metro Vancouver.
The tug was southbound from Alaska when it struck.