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Coast guard, First Nations work to contain oil leak from decades-old shipwreck in B.C.'s Nootka Sound

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2020-12-16 CBC/Radio-Canada
a group of people riding on the back of a boat in the water: An oily sheen from the MV Schiedyk is pictured off the coast of B.C.'s Bligh Island in late 2020. © Spill Response B.C. An oily sheen from the MV Schiedyk is pictured off the coast of B.C.'s Bligh Island in late 2020.

The Canadian Coast Guard says they are looking at "all avenues right now" to stem leaking oil from a decades-old shipwreck off the coast of B.C.'s Bligh Island.

"We will be working around the clock on this, there's no doubt about it," said Tyler Yager, an incident commander with the Canadian Coast Guard.

Leaking oil was spotted from the shipwreck, the MV Schiedyk, earlier this month. The ship sank in 1968, when it hit an underwater ledge and sank on the south side of Bligh Island. All 34 crew members survived, but the ship sank with oil on board.

Officials have hired a marine consultant to determine the next steps to stem the leak, or possibly remove the oil from the wreck.

Yager says it's been difficult to quantify how much oil remains on board and how much has leaked. 

"We don't have firm numbers yet regarding how much fuel or heavy fuel oil might have been aboard the ship at the time of the grounding," he said. "What we can confirm is that there's about 30 to 50 litres [of oil] on the water at any given time."

Authorities have put down a 16,000-foot boom to protect cultural and environmentally sensitive areas, he said. 

Coast guard officials are working with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, as well as with representatives from the Hesquiaht First Nation and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

"We have a good idea of where the environmental sensitivities are, but the local knowledge [on where] the cultural sensitivities are — for instance, clam beds, historical sites, and just general information of the area — [is important]," said Yager. 

Yager says it would be rare for something like this to happen in modern times, noting that the ship sank before the Marine Liability Act came into force, which holds polluters responsible for clean-up.

"There are firm laws now put in place in Canada that hold the polluter responsible," he said.

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