Three consecutive days of rough weather are hampering efforts to contain a diesel spill near Bella Bella, where US-registered tug ran aground last week.
Heiltsuk Incident commander Jessie Housty says continued gales mean once again small vessels have been told to stand down, as crews work to contain fuel from the sunken Nathan E Stewart.
She says that’s sidelined teams working to mitigate the spreading slick’s environmental impact.
“Our wildlife monitoring teams, our ecological sampling teams, all of the smaller crews doing the technical work are having to turn on a dime and have them either shelter by the coast guard boats, or sometimes come right back.”
Yesterday’s incident report states that conditions got bad enough at one point that shoreline cleanup teams had to be evacuated by helicopter.
The Heiltsuk are particularly concerned about the effect of the fuel on the region’s rich clam beds, a key economic driver in the winter.
The season was slated to open in several weeks, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has now closed the area because of chemical contamination.
Housty says rough weather is also playing havoc with the booms set to contain the slick, some of it tearing and snapping in the rough seas.
“It’s been a real struggle getting the kind of boom deployed that can actually withstand the conditions here. Just this morning we were hearing from the technical folks that are here that they’re bringing in more seaworthy booms that can withstand the kind of weather we’re seeing. And my question in response is why wasn’t that equipment here being deployed in the first place?”
Those new booms aren’t expected to show up for at least a day, with winds of up to 45 knots expected today.
Housty adds on top of the diesel they’re trying to keep contained, crews are nowhere near getting control of the fuel that spilled before the tug was boomed off.
It’s unclear exactly how much fuel has been removed from the tug, and how much has made it into the waters of Seaforth Channel. The Nathan E Stewart left port with about 226,000 diesel aboard.
The last incident report to give a figure of fluids pumped from the tug, on October 20th, stated about 88,000 litres had been removed.
Housty says rough weather prevented any fuel removal yesterday, but that her understanding is that the tug’s main fuel tanks have now been emptied with mechanical fluids next.
But she says several of the diesel tanks were full of seawater.
“Which I read to mean that the fuel that was in those tanks is what we’re seeing out in the system.”
The Nathan E Stewart ran aground in the early hours of last Thursday, on a reef off Althone Island.
Western Canada Marine Response Corp, the company responsible for spills on the B.C. coast was able to get two local contractors on site by the morning, but it was 17 hours before vessels with more booms and crews arrived from Prince Rupert.
The Nathan E. Stewart is an Articulated Tug Barge (ATB), a 100 foot vessel that pushes a barge capable of carrying at least 5.5 million litres (35,000 barrels) of petroleum product.
It is owned by Texas-based Kirby Offshore.
The vessel regularly plies the inside passage, and was southbound from Alaska when it struck.
It was operating under a waiver from the Pacific Pilotage Association at the time which exempted it from having a Canadian pilot on board.
That waiver has since been rescinded.