It has been more than a month since the U.S. tug Nathan E. Stewart went down near Bella Bella, spilling more than 100,000 litres of diesel.
Now, crews have successfully lifted the tug from the waters off B.C.’s central coast.
Heiltsuk First Nations Chief, Marilyn Slett, says the tug was removed Monday evening.
“The tug is out and it should be on the barge. We’re pleased that this part of the salvage operation is coming up to a wrap, but also for us, it’s the start of the whole assessment process of what that impact will be.”
Slett says the road to recovery will be a long one.
— Jess Housty (@heiltsukvoice) November 15, 2016
— Bob Kronbauer (@BobKronbauer) November 15, 2016
“For us, it’s one part of what we’re dealing with here. We start with some of the clean up and we’ll be starting with the whole environmental assessment process and trying to assess how our waters have been impacted.”
Crews began dragging the tug into deeper water last Wednesday, but weather conditions made it impossible to remove.
Trial and error as crews attempted a lift
Heiltsuk First Nation Incident Commander Jess Housty said by 3:15 p.m. that the process of attempting to lift the tug started around noon, and was unsuccessful at first.
“It has been re-positioned and dragged to deeper water, it’s been rigged for lifting, the chains are attached, but unfortunately we’re not seeing much progress toward actually lifting it at the moment.”
Housty flew over the site earlier in the early afternoon to watch crews work on salvaging the tug safely.
“It looks to me like maybe there was an issue with imbalance across the chains that were trying to lift the tug, but we do have a lot of crews that are working hard at correcting that so that we can safely get it out of the water.”
She said those within the Heiltsuk Nation had been struggling to keep morale up, but refused to give up hope that the tug would be lifted by the end of the day.
That being said, Housty maintains that even though the tug is out, they have their work cut out for them with shoreline cleanup, and environmental monitoring as a result of the massive fuel spill.
High profile disaster
The Nathan E. Stewart went down in the early hours of October 13 while pushing an empty fuel barge south from Alaska.
It was more than 17 hours before cleanup crews from Prince Rupert were on scene, prompting harsh criticism from the local Heiltsuk nation, environmentalists, and B.C. politicians.
Rough seas have complicated the cleanup, shredding booms and challenging on-shore remediation efforts.
The tug was carrying about 190,000 litres of fuel when it ran aground, more than half of it leaking out; it remains unclear how much of that can be recovered.
The diesel prompted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to close the local shellfish fishery, which the Heiltsuk say is a crucial part of their winter economy.
Federal Fisheries, Justice, and Transport ministers have all now visited the site, and last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1.5-billion for a new marine spill response regime.
That move comes just weeks before Ottawa is set to make a final decision on the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.