A mission is underway to recover a fuel truck holding 17,000 litres of diesel oil that rolled off a barge and sank off Vancouver Island last  week.

The Canadian Coast Guard  and other responders are trying to raise the truck that sank in the  Chancellor Channel about 55 kilometres north of Campbell River. 

An internal memo from the Transportation  Safety Board confirms the truck carried diesel oil. The federal  Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed the truck contained five  separate tanks, one of which is leaking.

The department says it and First Nations  and a marine pollution response company are now trying to extract the  truck within the next three days. They believe it is between 27 and 37  metres below the surface. 

“The top priority… is the  safe retrieval of the tanker within the next 72 hours if possible,” said  a DFO statement. “All efforts are focused on achieving that outcome  with minimal release of diesel fuel into the marine environment.”

The truck fell off the  barge Western Carrier while it was being hauled by the tugboat Risco  Warrior to supply fuel to a logging camp on nearby Hardwicke Island. 

The government has also contracted the  Western Canadian Marine Response Corp., an industry-funded organization  with more than 2,300 members, to lay booms in an effort to protect  marine life. 

The company confirmed to The Tyee it has  deployed two boats to the area. Spokesman Michael Lowry said it has  deployed booms around the nearby shoreline and the site where the truck  sank to mitigate the damage caused by any potential spill. The Coast  Guard says more than 1.2 kilometres of protective booms have been  deployed.

Both vessels are owned by Marine Link  Transportation, whose owner Guy Adams says the incident was immediately  reported to the Canadian Coast Guard. Adams said there were three staff  aboard the barge at the time. 

The day after the Coast Guard and its  partners deployed an underwater remotely operated vehicle and observed  diesel leaking from one of the tanks. 

The Coast Guard said divers had also been  dispatched to patch the leaks in the truck, which they described as  “intermittent and minimal.” 

Adams told The Tyee he is working with the Coast Guard and government officials to recover the truck. 

“All the resources that can possibly be brought to bear have been brought to bear,” Adams said. 

Mohan Raman of the Transportation Safety  Board says the agency believes the truck fell off the board due to  inclement weather. Adams says there were “horrific winds” off the coast  that day.

Raman, the director of marine operations  for the board’s Pacific branch, says there will be no further  investigation of how the truck fell off the barge. 

Adams said three First Nations were also  engaged in the response effort. The K’ómoks First Nation, whose  territory includes part of the shoreline, declined to comment on the  matter. 

Adams said Marine Link Transportation works  primarily in delivering heavy freight equipment, construction supplies,  fuel and other goods to First Nations, construction projects and other  clients along remote sites on the B.C. coast.

University of British Columbia  professor Juan José Alava said diesel spills are particularly  challenging to clean and can be dangerous for marine life. 

Compared to other fossil fuels, Alava said,  diesel dissipates relatively quickly in water. Once that happens, he  said, it can become more difficult to contain and can have dangerous  effects on marine life, especially mammals like harbour seals and sea  lions. 

Alava said this could also affect First Nations who depend on local marine life as a source of food.  

He said responders were correct to deploy  boons to protect shorelines and contain the spill and suggested they may  also pump surface water to remove the diesel if a significant amount is  released. 

“We might also monitor the species around  the spill to see if any animals have been affected or tainted,” said  Alava, who is part of the university’s ocean pollution research group. 

Alava said it was fortunate the leaks are minimal so far. 

“Seventeen thousand litres is a lot,” he said. 

Adams said the company and other parties would have more to say on the matter Thursday. 

Government responders noted Canada operates  on the “polluter pay” principle, meaning companies and individuals  responsible for pollution bear the cost of the response. They said they  had “full commitment” from Marine Link Transportation.

By Zak Vescera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 29, 2023 at 01:00

This item reprinted with permission from   The Tyee   Vancouver, British Columbia
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