90,000 litres of diesel unaccounted for from tug off Bella Bella

Crews have been raking beaches to try to bring up the diesel that's trapped

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BELLA BELLA, B.C. — More than 90,000 litres of diesel have yet to be accounted for after a group overseeing cleanup of a spill from a submerged tug on British Columbia’s central coast said the tanks aboard the Nathan E. Stewart have been pumped out.

Heiltsuk Nation Chief Marilyn Slett said members of her First Nation were on local beaches Tuesday trying to limit pollution after fuel soiled the shoreline along the renowned Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.’s central coast.

“The crews have been raking the beaches physically with a rake to try and bring up the diesel that’s trapped. We understand the diesel’s trapped up to eight inches below the surface and then they flush it out with water and then they repeat that,” she said.

A joint report issued by the American tug owner and federal, provincial and First Nations representatives said 110,131 litres of an oil-water mixture have been recovered.

An estimate of the amount of diesel that leaked from the tug is not expected for several days, said an information officer at the joint unit command.

Officials said the tug was loaded with 226,840 litres of when it ran aground just west of Bella Bella on Oct. 13, and nearly 25,000 litres were removed before the vessel settled under nine metres of water in Seaforth Channel.

A shellfish harvesting closure was imposed the next day, and an oily sheen and oiled shorelines along sections of Seaforth Channel were reported soon after.

The joint report said one oiled bird was also observed.

“There’s oil that’s been discovered in at least three coves in Seaforth Channel,” said Slett. “We’re really concerned about the amount of oil we’ve been discovering on the beaches.”

Slett said she took a tour by helicopter of the spill area and noticed oily sheens in the water. She said she also saw a humpback whale near the spill site. Orcas and sea otters were also reported near the sunken tug.

Kirby Offshore Marine, which owns the 30-metre tug, hoped to use a crane to lift the vessel onto a barge once its tanks were pumped out, but a timeline for the salvage effort has not been set.

The salvage vessel Resolve Pioneer arrived in Bella Bella Tuesday, but it could be three weeks before the tug is removed from the area.

“That’s not withstanding weather delays or anything else that could arise,” Slett said. “That’s a long time.”

Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan called for better spill response capacity of B.C.’s central coast in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Horgan visited the Bella Bella area and spill site last week.

Federal New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen called for federal compensation for the Heiltsuk families who can no longer work in the commercial clam harvest because of the spill.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark said shortly after the spill that the federal government has not done enough to provide adequate spill response capacity on the West Coast.

A situation report issued Monday said two tanks containing oil or contaminants from the submerged tug were either torn open or severely damaged when the vessel ran aground.


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