WATCH ABOVE: It appeared a disaster was averted Friday night, as a coast guard vessel was able to get a line on a Russian container ship that could have run aground into Haida Gwaii. Aaron McArthur reports.
VANCOUVER – A 134-metre Russian container ship that was adrift off the coast of Haida Gwaii has now been tethered by a Canadian Coast Guard vessel and is being towed away from the shore line.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Victoria confirmed they received a call at 11:21 p.m. on Thursday that a deep sea bulk carrier was adrift in the ocean.
The ship is currently about nine miles off the west coast of Haida Gwaii near Tasu Sound.
The ship is now making its way in the westerly direction and is approximately 11 miles from shore. It is currently moving at the speed of 1.5 miles/hour away from land.
No decision has been made on where the ship will be moved to yet.
WATCH: Russian bulk carrier vessel adrift off Haida Gwaii (courtesy: Maritime Forces Pacific)
“Our first priority is to get it away from land, get it further from land, so it’s no longer in danger,” says Canadian Navy Lt. Paul Pendergast. “After that, a decision will be made.”
Haida president Peter Lantin said he was surprised the Gordon Reid was able to tether to Simushir and tow it slowly west away fromthe islands at about one and a half nautical miles an hour.
“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,” said Latin.
Two tugs are on their way and were supposed to arrive at 1 a.m. but because of weather will likely arrive at about 4 a.m., he said.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Lantin. “Until they get on site we really don’t have, you know, absolute security of this ship.”
The Haida are still preparing for a worst-case scenario should the tow line break, he added.
It is called the Simushir and there are 11 crew members on board. The JRCC said the vessel master has suffered a heart attack and has been airlifted to Queen Charlotte City hospital.
There is heavy wind and rain off the coast of Haida Gwaii today so there are some concerns the ship could run aground.
The ship is carrying mining minerals, 400 tonnes of Bunker C fuel oil and 50 tonnes of diesel fuel. The ship’s cargo also includes chemicals and solvents that could present an issue from an environment perspective.
There are no reports of any fuel spilling into the water at this time.
Global BC meteorologist Kristi Gordon says the winds in the area eased off this afternoon, but southeast winds of up to 90 km/h are expected by tomorrow morning.
Environment Minister Mary Polak says the ship is currently drifting away from shore as the result of changing winds.
“It does not mean that the potential for grounding is over,” says Polak. “It just means we are getting a bit of help from Mother Nature.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Images of Simushir carrier vessel adrift off Haida Gwaii (courtesy: Maritime Forces Pacific)
James Clarke, senior military officer with the Vitoria Search and Rescue region, says CCGS Gordon Reid and two helicopters are on scene.
Three ships are expected on scene early in the morning, including a tug out of Prince Rupert, a US coast guard cutter, and the Wilfrid Laurier, which is tasked with towing the vessel or managing environmental impact if needed.
Polak says the tug is not likely to reach the vessel until around 2 a.m.
“It is the closest vessel coming from Prince Rupert that would have the capabilities of towing this cargo ship, and that is a huge concern to us,” she adds.
Container ship adrift off the coast of Haida Gwaii
Attempts are being made by the crew right now to start the engine and if they get into shallower waters, they can drop the anchor to stabilize the ship.
“Our hope is to get the vessel undertow or indeed repaired before she presents any further effect on the environment,” says assistant commissioner Canadian coast guard Western region Roger Girouard.
Girouard says whether the ship runs aground is now at the mercy of the weather.
We got some favourable winds throughout the day. There are a couple of weather shifts coming off through the night, and some more severe winds, but they are actually blowing in our favour. For the time being, she does not represent an imminent threat. Over the next 48 hours, we are doing everything we can to get her either repaired or undertow to make sure that there is more space between where she is and that shoreline.
The province is working with the federal government and the Canadian Coast Guard to manage the situation. They have set up an incident command structure to share information about what is happening.
A B.C. Incident Management Team has been activated, which includes Emergency Environmental Response Officers (EEROs) and other technical specialists.
The Province is also contacting its partners in the BC Pacific States Oil Spill Task Force both to notify them of the risk and to ask them to provide mutual aid as needed based on the outcome of efforts to restore power to the vessel.
The Haida Nation has set up an emergency command centre in Old Massett in case the ship runs aground.
“The Haida Nation’s worst fear is coming true,” said President of the Haida Nation kil tlaats ’gaa Peter Lantin. “Our priority is to minimize the impact on our homeland and get our people on-site to start dealing with the grounding. We’ll deal with the politics of the situation later.”
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