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‘We are trying to prepare for the worst’: President of the Haida Nation

The president of the Haida Nation says his people are trying to prepare for the worst as a Russian container ship carrying fuel is drifting in the waters off the west coast of Haida Gwaii.

Late Friday night, Canadian Coast Guard confirmed the ship has been successfully tethered and is now being towed away from the land.

However, search and rescue teams say weather conditions in the area are challenging, and there were concerns the shift 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.

Peter Lantin says they have been engaging with all the parties involved, including both levels of government, as the situation unravels.

“We have been talking about this in light of Enbridge and LNG in a hypothetical sense,” says Lantin. “We are now dealing with a real situation. We live here. This is one of the most sensitive areas in Haida Gwaii and everybody is really scared.”

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Lantin says the worst case scenario is if the ship runs aground and breaks up.

“It is a rocky shoreline. So if it hits where it is expected to hit, it is going to break up.”

WATCH: Russian bulk carrier vessel adrift off Haida Gwaii (Courtesy: Maritime Forces Pacific)

He is concerned about the cargo aboard the ship and what happens next.

The nearest tug is not expected to reach the vessel until early Saturday morning.

Environment Minister Mary Polak says the incident needs to be dealt with first and the discussion about environmental safety concerns needs to take place next.

Polak admits B.C. does not have the means to deal with a marine spill.

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“This highlights some of the concerns that the Premier and myself have expressed to the federal government over the last few years,” she says. “With the amount of container traffic up and down our coastline all the time, that concern is already present because of the amount of fuel those ships carry.”

Polak says that is the reason why Christy Clark’s government has been opposed to Enbridge’s proposal to build the Northern Gateway pipeline that got a go-ahead from the federal government in June. The $6.5 billion Northern Gateway project would transport 525,000 barrels per day of oil products from outside Edmonton to Kitimat on the northern B.C. coast.

She says while Enbridge made many commitments, they did not show any evidence they could marshal a sufficient response.

WATCH: Maritime safety on the West Coast

NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End Spencer Chandra Herbert calls the situation disturbing.

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“When we had such focus on the dangers of oil tankers, marine traffic, container ships and so on, to now see a very real situation where the emergency responders are too far away to make much of a difference, it is so frustrating,” says Chandra Herbert. “My heart goes out to the people of Haida Gwaii. To be put in this place, to see it coming at you and not being able to do anything, it is just hard to accept.”