Sunken ATB Tug Off B.C. Coast Finally Raised

Ian McAllister / Pacific Wild

By MarEx 2016-11-15 12:52:46

The sunken ATB tug Nathan E. Stewart has been raised at last, ending a 33-day response operation on the Inside Passage.

The Stewart went aground and sank near the small town of Bella Bella, B.C. on October 13, carrying about 60,000 gallons of diesel and 500 gallons of lube oil. Her operator estimates that almost 30,000 gallons of fuel were released into the environment. 

After pulling the tug to deeper waters, salvors hoisted her with a barge-mounted gantry crane and set her on deck for removal. 

The salvage was long delayed due to heavy weather, with winds and waves that were severe enough to flip a commercial gravel barge in nearby waters. 

Jess Housty, an elected councillor of the local Heiltsuk first nation, told CBC that recovering the tug was an important step, but that there was still a long way to go to undo the damage from the spill. "Frankly, we suspect the worst . . . we know the diesel was sucked right into the area where our most abundant clam beds are," she said. 

Transport Canada and the Heiltsuk tribe have taken water and sediment samples to determine the extent of the damage from the spill. No results have been released yet, and the tribe has accused the Canadian government of keeping its sampling data secret. 

The cause of the grounding is still under investigation, and the tug – and its ATB product barge – may remain part of Canada's political conversation of some time. Following the sinking, the Heiltsuk tribe and environmental activists have renewed calls for a ban on tankers and an improved spill response capability on the B.C. coastline. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has agreed to their second demand: he recently announced a $1.1 billion plan for new spill response and salvage equipment for the region. And in a landmark decision issued Friday, Trudeau directed his ministers to draft a ban on crude tanker traffic on B.C.'s North Coast, one of his central campaign promises. The ban would need to pass Canada's legislature to go into effect, but if it does, it could block the development of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which has its terminus in Kitimat, B.C.