A tug boat and a fuel barge have run aground just north of Athlone Island near Bella Bella Thursday morning.
The barge is intended to carry fuel, but was empty at the time of the incident.
The tug boat had a crew of seven people. All are confirmed to be safe.
The vessel involved is “Nathan E. Stewart,” a 2001-built US tug boat.
Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council Marilyn Slett said in a release that at approximately 9:50 a.m. Thursday morning the tug sank with fuel continuing to flow into the water.
The company that owns the tug, Texas-based Kirby Offshore Marine, confirmed the tug has taken on water and lost buoyancy. It remains coupled to the barge, which is afloat and presently stable. It says the tug had a load of approximately 50,000 gallons of diesel at the start of the voyage.
The company released the following statement about the incident Thursday night:
“Earlier today, tug Nathan E. Stewart and barge DBL 55 ran aground in Canadian waters at the entrance to Sea Forth Channel on Athlone Island. All local authorities have been notified, a Unified Command has been established, and a coordinated, full response is currently taking place.”
“Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) was activated and have deployed vessels and crew from their response base in Prince Rupert. WCRMC response contractors from Shearwater are already on the scene, as are company response personnel. Various response vessels, workboats, boom, and oil skimmers have been deployed to the scene and boom has been deployed. Early responders included professionals from the Heiltsuk Nation, under the direction of WCRMC, with efforts focusing on containing any spill and protecting the sensitive environment of the local coast and waters.”
“Kirby Offshore Marine, owners and managers of the Nathan E. Stewart, are committed to mitigating the effects of this incident and are working to respond and limit environmental impact from this incident in collaboration with the federal and local authorities. Kirby Offshore also wish to thank the actions of the Canadian Coast Guard for assisting the tug’s crew to safety, the efforts of the first responders from the Heiltsuk Nation, and the many women and men who have mobilized their skills and resources to assist.”
Slett claims the spill is threatening to devastate an area in which 25 important species are harvested, including manila clam beds that provide an important income for the community.
“Though we are thankful that the barge was empty, we are gravely concerned about the potential ramifications of the fuel spill from the tug,” Slett said.
Slett says with the changing winds and tide, there is concern that the spilled fuel will be pushed towards other important harvesting areas for herring roe, seaweed and clams.
PHOTO courtesy: Heiltsuk Tribal Council
“It’s really bad out here. A lot of fuel is on the beach already, and fuel is in the water,” said Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department director Kelly Brown from the spill site. “The initial spill response has been totally inadequate. The first responding vessels were not equipped to deal with a spill, and had to return to town to gather more gear. The Heiltsuk are providing our own equipment because what responders have been able to provide so far is insufficient.”
Kirby Offshore Marine said in a statement their priority is developing a plan to remove all diesel aboard the tug and to safely salvage the vessel.
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