OLD MASSETT, B.C. — A Russian container ship carrying hundreds of tonnes of fuel was drifting without power in rough seas off British Columbia’s northern coast Friday, a scenario a nearby First Nation community described as its “worst fear.”
The Canadian Forces’ joint rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria said the Russian carrier Simushir lost power late Thursday night off Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as it was making its way from Washington state to Russia.
Navy Lt. Paul Penderghast said the ship was drifting nine nautical miles, or about 17 kilometres, from shore, though he said it was largely maintaining that position.
“It is drifting, but it’s drifting parallel to shore,” said Penderghast.
The Council of the Haida Nation, however, warned the ship could run aground by Friday evening.
Acting Sub. Lt. Ron MacDougall said the Simushir, which is 135 metres long, was carrying “a range of hydrocarbons, mining materials and other related chemicals.” That included 400 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of diesel.
The ship had 11 crew members on board, though a Cormorant helicopter was dispatched to rescue the captain, who was injured.
MacDougall didn’t know the nature of the captain’s injuries or what caused them.
The Canadian Coast Guard ship Gordon Reid was heading to the area and was expected to arrive Friday afternoon. A tugboat from Prince Rupert, on the northern B.C. coast, was expected to arrive by early Saturday morning.
In addition, the United States Coast Guard had a helicopter on standby in the event that the entire crew needed to be removed from the ship.
Numerous federal and provincial agencies were involved co-ordinating the response, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and B.C.’s Environment Ministry. Western Canada Marine Response Corp., which is contracted by the federal government for oil spill response, said it had been notified and crews were on standby.
Rough weather was also a concern. MacDougall said there were winds of almost 30 kilometres per hour with seven-metre seas, though he said that was expected to ease up as the day progressed. Environment Canada had issued a storm warning for much of the northern coast, including the area around Haida Gwaii.
The Council of the Haida Nation issued a news release at about 12:30 p.m. on Friday that warned the ship could run aground within nine hours.
“The Haida Nation’s worst fear is coming true,” Haida president Peter Lantin said in the news release.
The news release said the council had set up an emergency command centre in Old Massett, located on the northern tip of Haida Gwaii, in the event that the vessel runs aground.
“Our priority is to minimize the impact on our homeland and get our people on-site to start dealing with the grounding.”
The Simushir is registered in Kholmsk, Russia, and owned by Russian shipping firm SASCO, also known as Sakhalin Shipping Company, according to the company’s website.
The SASCO website says the ship was built in the Netherlands in 1998.