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Drifting vessel off B.C. a huge wake-up call, groups say

A drifting fuel-laden container ship is a huge wake-up call for federal and provincial governments, environmental groups said Friday.
Eduardo Sousa
Eduardo Sousa: “I know those waters off Haida Gwaii and those waters are pristine. So to have a ship potentially break apart on the cliffs …"

A drifting fuel-laden container ship is a huge wake-up call for federal and provincial governments, environmental groups said Friday.

Any time there’s an incident like the one involving the Russian vessel Simushir, it’s a reminder of the dangers of proposals by Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain, said Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The drifting ship underscores how there is clearly a risk for shipping traffic on the coast, especially in the fall and winter when weather can be harsh, Genovali said.

“Here we have a potential accident in the making and hopefully nothing will happen, but who knows what might happen with the weather in terms of wind and waves in the next 24 hours or whenever this tug boat is going to get there?”

Genovali questioned the consequences if “this ship runs aground and all this bunker and diesel fuel are let loose.”

“And we’re talking about a container ship, as opposed to a very large crude carrier that would be full of diluted bitumen or tar sands oil.”

Fuels on board the container ship can be toxic, Genovali said.

“Obviously, they would have a negative impact if let loose in the environment.”

Eduardo Sousa, B.C.’s director for Greenpeace, said he is concerned even though the vessel is not an oil tanker.

“The fact is, it’s still carrying a lot of oil and a lot of diesel as well,” Sousa said. “I know those waters off Haida Gwaii and those waters are pristine. So to have a ship potentially break apart on the cliffs … as I understand it, they’re calling for a major storm.”

Terrain in the area, the same route supertankers would take if they were to carry oil from the Northern Gateway pipeline, is very jagged, said Sousa.

If the ship hits shore, it’s going to be very messy, he said.

“We’ve been saying, as have other environmental groups, it’s not if, it’s when a crash will happen, and this is a perfect example.

“The government should be waking up to this,” Sousa said.

“Here’s another example and maybe we should be prudent not to let oil supertankers go through this area, given the huge risks that they face.”

The federal government has been talking about a world-class program it wants to implement in response to spills, Sousa said.

“I think about that and what is currently in place. Look how long it is taking the coast guard to get there.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com