OCTOBER 14, 2016 — A Kirby Corporation articulated tug/barge southbound from Alaska ran aground at Edge Reef, in Seaforth Channel near Athlone Island, British Columbia just after 1 a.m. PT, yesterday.
Although the fuel barge DBL 55 was empty, the tug Nathan E. Stewart , which was carrying 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the outset of the voyage, sank. Three of the tug's fuel tanks were compromised, media reports cite members of the Heiltsuk First Nation as saying.
"The tug is submerged and leaking some diesel, which is expected to dissipate and break-up," Canadian Coast Guard spokeswoman Michelle Imbeau is quoted as saying in an email. Weather conditions provided for visibility of eight miles when the tug and barge ran aground, and the wind was blowing at nine knots, she said.
Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WMRC) reported that seven crew members had left the vessel and were safely aboard the Canadian Coast Guard response vessel, the Bartlett.
WCMRC said it had deployed vessels and crew from its response base in Prince Rupert.
A mobile skimming vessel, two boom skiffs, a workboat and tug and barge with three response trailers were deployed to the scene.
Local WCMRC response contractors from Shearwater had arrived on scene and boomed the casualty and vessels and crew from WCMRC’s Vancouver base were on stand-by.
The spill threatens dozens of shellfish species harvested in the area, including manila clam beds that provide income of up to $150,000 per year for the community, according to the Heiltsuk.
"It's a significant part of our local winter economy. That clam fishery was due to open in about three weeks," said Marilyn Slett, Elected Member/Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council.
The incident shows the need for improved spill response for the area, the Heiltsuk Nation said, adding it could take up to 24 hours for spill response ships to arrive from Prince Rupert.
Pending investigation of the incident, Canada's Pacific Pilotage Authority has suspended regulations that permit U.S. vessels that are under 10,000 gross tonnage to operate without a local pilot on the West Coast of Canada, if the crew meets a minimum standard of experience and licensing.
Response operations (Source:Western Canada Marine Response Corporation)