Responders have finished pumping fuel off of a grounded Kirby Offshore Marine tug near Bella Bella, British Columbia, and are preparing to salvage the vessel.
The tug, Nathan E. Stewart, was paired with barge DBL 55 when the vessels ran hard aground at the entrance to Seaforth Channel early on the morning of Oct. 13, spilling diesel into the water. Since then, responders have battled challenging conditions in an effort to mitigate the consequences of the spill in an ecologically sensitive area home to traditional fisheries for the Heiltsuk First Nation
Responders led by the Canadian Coast Guard reported Monday morning that they had finished pumping the contents of the tug's tanks onto a lightering vessel. It remains unclear how much fuel and other fluids were spilled in the ocean, but Houston-based Kirby said the tug had been loaded with 59,924 gals. of diesel fuel when it ran aground, and that 6,554 gals. of diesel had been pumped from the tug into a tank on the barge before the pumps failed due to water in the engine room. Kirby confirmed that the tug was also carrying 639 gals lube oil, 550 gals hydraulic oil, 550 gals gear oil, 969 gals dirty bilge water.
On Saturday, divers inspecting the spent lube tank found it damaged and noted that "the bottom of the tank was open to the seafloor below" and "there was no product in the tank." The bilge water tank also was found to be "severely damaged."
Storms last week hampered response efforts and on Friday upset booms placed around the tug to contain the product. Booms were repaired and replaced over the weekend.
Plans call for the tug to be salvaged using Shearwater Marine's double-hulled deck barge Central Coaster. The 150' Central Coaster is equipped with a 15-ton capacity Seven Stars pedestal crane with 70’ boom. The vessel was being prepped for salvage operations, but no salvage timeline was available Tuesday morning.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada announced Monday that it was launching an official investigation into the incident. In a statement, Kirby officials offered regret and thanks to responders.
“We deeply regret the incident that occurred with the Nathan E. Stewart tug. We understand that the incident has caused significant concern for the Heiltsuk Nation and all the people of British Columbia,” said Jim Guidry, Kirby's executive vice president of vessel operations in a statement. “We want to thank the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment, and the host of other federal and provincial agencies that have come together to work with us on this incident and clean-up efforts. But most importantly, we want to express our gratitude to the Heiltsuk Nation for their response efforts, local knowledge and generosity. Their contributions have been greatly appreciated.”
The ecological sensitivity of the region, part of the Great Bear Rainforest, has made environmental concerns a top priority. Heiltsuk First Nation officials have said that the spill threatens dozens of species, including manila clams. The manila clam fishery had been due to open in about three weeks, Heiltsuk officials said. Last week, Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the fisheries in the area.