A large ship carrying bunker fuel and diesel is adrift off the British Columbia coast. It is projected to reach Haida Gwaii before nightfall.
The Haida Nation has declared the situation an emergency and warned that the Canadian Coast Guard and other emergency responders are unlikely to intercept the vessel before it strikes land.
The ship was early in a journey from Everett, Washington, to Russia when it lost power and began to drift.
The 135-metre bulk carrier is holding 500 metric tonnes of bunker fuel and 60 tonnes of diesel, according to a media release issued by the Haida Nation. The ship is registered to Russia and called the Simushir.
"The Haida Nation’s worst fear is coming true,” said Haida Nation kil tlaats ’gaa president Peter Lantin quoted in the release. “Our priority is to minimize the impact on our homeland and get our people on-site to start dealing with the grounding. We’ll deal with the politics of the situation later."
That document states that the Simishir lost power "in the early morning" and that the Haida Nation was contacted by by the coast guard at 7:30 a.m.
According to messages posted on Twitter by Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, there are no tugboats in the area large enough to intercept the drifting cargo ship. The nearest vessels that could help prevent the Simushir from striking land will not be able to reach it until the morning of October 18.
Chandra Herbert wrote that the provincial government predicts that unless circumstances change, the ship is expected to hit land around 10 p.m. this evening (October 17).
Update: The provincial government has issued a media release stating that it is working with federal counterparts to respond to the incident.
“Late last night [October 16], the Canadian Coast Guard was notified that a general cargo vessel, the Simushir, had lost engine power 12 nautical miles NorthWest of Gowgaia Bay, off Moresby Island," its stated there. "Once alerted of the ship being adrift, Emergency Management BC (EMBC) activated its emergency protocols to connect all partners involved and ensure a coordinated response."
The release adds that EMBC is working with the coast guard plus the Canadian Armed Forces. It also notes that it is federal agencies that are leading repsonse efforts while the province plays a supporting role.
“A B.C. Incident Management Team has been activated, which includes Emergency Environmental Response Officers (EEROs) and other technical specialists," the release continues. "The Province is also contacting its partners in the BC Pacific States Oil Spill Task Force both to notify them of the risk and to ask them to provide mutual aid as needed based on the outcome of efforts to restore power to the vessel.”
Earlier in the day, the Globe and Mail reports that a coast guard helicopter was dispatched to the Simushir to evacuate at least one crew member who was injured. Another 11 members of the crew are still on board the ship.
According to Environment Canada, bunker fuel is a heavy oil that mainly contains aliphatic, aromatic, and cycloalkane hydrocarbons. It can also include asphaltenes and smaller amounts of sulphur, nitrogen and/or oxygen. It is a fuel commonly used by large shipping vessels.
The Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, an industry research and discussion website, states that bunker fuel as “among the lowest-level diesel fuel distillates”. It’s described there as a “relatively thick, dirty fuel that builds deposits in refinery pipes and equipment”.
At the time of writing the Government of Canada had issued a weather warning for the Haida Gwaii region. "'Storm' force winds of 48 to 63 knots are occurring or expected to occur in this marine area,” it reads.
The Exxon Valdez spilled 35,000 metric tonnes of oil when it ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989.