Salvors Prepare to Raise Sunken Tug in B.C.

Courtesy Heiltsuk Nation

By MarEx 2016-11-03 13:15:11

A salvage barge has arrived at the site of the sinking of the ATB tug Nathan E Stewart near Bella Bella, B.C., but bad weather continues to frustrate salvors' response efforts. 

Local Heiltsuk tribe members indicated in online posts that all response vessels were on stand-down due to poor conditions. The forecast for Wednesday called for winds of up to 50 knots. 

Salvors have made progress pumping out the Stewart's fuel, bilge and lubricant tanks, but half of the diesel fuel and all of the oily bilge aboard the Stewart when she went down remain unaccounted for.  

Weather permitting, responders intend to move the Stewart to deeper water and lift her aboard the barge for removal.

The speed and efficacy of the response have come under widespread criticism. The Heiltsuk say that spill response teams were slow to arrive and inadequately prepared. Photos taken after a storm show containment booms in disarray and an oily sheen extending past their bounds. 

The Heiltsuk Nation has called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to honor his campaign promise for an oil tanker ban in British Columbia; the International Chamber of Shipping says that such a ban would be excessive and "draconian." In addition, a tanker ban could violate the provisions for “innocent passage” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The ban would not affect small petroleum product vessels like the Stewart.

In addition, the Heiltsuk have called for an  improved spill response system in the region. Mike Smyth, a columnist with B.C. outlet The Province, says that the region has lacked adequate spill response capacity for some time. He cites an extensive study by consultants Nuka Research and Planning Group which found a range of deficiencies, from a lack of coordination protocols to the absence of designated rescue tugs. 

On October 24, the regional Pacific Pilotage Authority said that vessels of 350-10,000 GRT transiting the Inside Passage without a pilot – an arrangement permitted under a waiver program – will now have to have two people on the bridge at all times. 

The cause of the sinking remains under investigation, and officials have declined to speculate until they have made a formal determination.