Barge to remain stranded at Quadra Island for at least 4 days; weather a worry

A massive barge will remain stranded on Quadra Island for at least four days before the tides will allow it to rise enough to pull it off the rocks, Strathcona Regional District director Jim Abram said Tuesday.

But the former lighthouse keeper warned that in the four days, there is wind in the forecast. “If we start to get wind, depending on what the tide is doing, you’re going to get a different kind of wave. And if that barge starts going up and down on that rock, it’s just going to do more and more damage. That’s a given.”

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The Canadian Coast Guard said in a statement that it assessed the barge Monday afternoon and found its hull was compromised. There was no sign of pollution. A pollution-response vessel is at the scene to monitor the barge.

The owner of the barge has sent a naval architect and salvage master to the scene. A preliminary salvage plan to refloat the barge has been given to Transport Canada and the coast guard for approval.

There are three loaded rail cars on board, said the statement — one contains compressed carbon dioxide, while the other two contain a corrosion inhibitor. All other rail cars and containers are empty, as is the hull.

“The situation is stable and there is very little risk of pollution, as these cars are individually secured and raised above deck,” said the statement.

But Abram said the incident points to risks associated with an increase in marine traffic in the area and the potential impact on the environment, fishery, aquaculture industry and resurgence of killer, humpback and grey whales.

Vessels delivering fuel and goods in the Inside Passage are necessary to keep the islands going, said Abram, but international marine traffic carrying hazardous goods from places such as Seattle should not be travelling that route to Alaska.

Abram said he would like to see international marine traffic travelling on the outside of Vancouver Island, on the route most of the bigger traffic takes, about 40 kilometres offshore. “That way,  if something happens, like a mechanical breakdown on a tug, all they are going to do is drift while they are calling for help.”

Abram said the tugs are not typically required to have a B.C. pilot on board, and even if they are, the B.C. pilots don’t actually drive the vessels — they advise the skipper what to do.

Traffic in the Inside Passage is travelling along channels that are narrow, less than two kilometres wide. “And we have tides that go from zero to 17 feet, up and down. And we have tidal currents that run at 10 knots in many places. That’s faster than any of those vessels can go. And they have no room for error. Absolute zero.”

Abram said he is concerned that Canadian authorities — the Victoria Rescue Co-ordination Centre and provincial emergency response centres — do not receive information on what the barges are transporting.

“If I drove a panel truck to an American border crossing, I’d guarantee they would know what is in the back of my truck,” said Abram. “Is it any different with international marine cargo transiting across a border?”

The barge that ran aground on Quadra Island is monstrous, said Abram — 440 feet long, 140 feet longer than a football field, and more than 100 feet wide.

On Saturday around 8 p.m., it was being pulled by a tug and pushed by the tide when it hit the rocks and ran along those rocks for about 20 metres before it came to rest.

“You have to realize this barge is not off Quadra Island. It’s on the shore,” said Abram. “This is only 100 feet from people’s houses. There are dozens of people living in houses right along the shore, right along the water in that area.”

People are concerned the barge might become a permanent fixture, he said.

“People living on beautiful waterfront property on Quadra Island don’t want their entire view to be the side of the barge.”

The owner of the barge is responsible for all costs, said the statement from the coast guard.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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