Mayor of N.L. town wants leaking oil from decaying whaling ships to be removed

SS Charcot, an abandoned whaling ship is pictured in Conception Harbour, N.L., August 2018. The Canadian Press/Holly McKenzie-Sutter

The ruins of abandoned whaling ships in Conception Harbour have long attracted sightseers, but oil seeping from the decaying vessels has tainted the impressive view and damaged the environment.

In response, Conception Harbour Mayor Craig Williams is calling on the Canadian Coast Guard to come up with a plan to remove leftover oil from the three ships that is leaking into the water around his town.

Williams said Friday he’s seen more oil sheens this summer than in past years, and the smell sometimes wafts to shore, where people take photos of the famous wreckage.

“If you’re standing in front of it now, if the wind is right or there’s no wind, you can actually smell the oil,” Williams said in an interview.

Residents have raised concerns about environmental damage from the pollution, he said. “We don’t want to destroy the ecosystem that’s there.”

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The three ships were built in the 1920s and had been owned by the Hawke Harbour Whaling Company, according to a 2014 report published by the province’s tourism department.

The report says the ships were brought to Conception Bay following a fire in 1959 that destroyed the Hawke Harbour whaling station in southern Labrador.

They were abandoned at a Conception Harbour wharf in the late 1960s. Since then, two of the three vessels have submerged. The wreck site has become a major attraction, bringing divers and photographers to the town, located about an hour’s drive west of St. John’s.

Tourists are particularly fond of snapping pictures of the rusting SS Charcot, which is partially sunken and juts out of the water, offering people a stunning visual.

“I do a fair bit of photography myself, and sometimes I’ll go down … on a nice moonlit night to do a shot, and there’s already someone there,” Williams said. “It is probably one of the most photographed wrecks in Newfoundland.”

Williams said leakage from the ships is more noticeable during the summer, when the water is warmer and calmer. He added patches of oil can be seen on the rocks by the shore. Moreover, drone footage published online shows an oil sheen surrounding the wrecks.

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The leakage has also posed problems for divers who visit Conception Harbour to explore the site. Williams said divers have emerged with oil on their equipment. The oil has also stuck to the boats of recreational fishers, Williams said.

WATCH (August 2018): Oil leaks out of Nova Scotia Power generating station into Halifax harbour

Click to play video: 'Oil leaks out of Nova Scotia Power generating station into Halifax harbour' Oil leaks out of Nova Scotia Power generating station into Halifax harbour
Oil leaks out of Nova Scotia Power generating station into Halifax harbour – Aug 3, 2018

The Canadian Coast Guard said Friday a dive assessment traced the sheen to the MV Sukha, one of the three derelict vessels. The force said they temporarily repaired the leak and removed 100 litres of oil. They also said a containment boom around the site is still in place.

“Video and data collected from the dive assessment are currently being reviewed to identify options for a more permanent solution,” the coast guard said in a statement.

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Williams said he’s been in communication with the coast guard and hoped they will quickly come up with a plan to remove the rest of the oil.

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