Cleanup crew arrives at site of leaking shipwreck in Nootka Sound

An American crew has arrived in Nootka Sound to begin assessing and patching the wreck of the MV Schiedyk, the 50-year old shipwreck near Bligh Island that has been leaking bunker oil and fouling waters in the Zuciarte Channel for five months.

Members of Resolve Marine Group arrived in the area aboard the Canadian-registered Atlantic Condor on Sunday and are testing equipment and surveying the site this week in the initial stages of efforts to remove oil from the sunken ship, says a spokeswoman for the Canadian Coast Guard.

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The Florida-based marine salvage company has worked on several international cleanups before, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The 483-foot-long MV Schiedyk sank near Bligh Island in January 1968 after hitting a submerged ledge and sits hull-up about 122 metres below the surface. It was leaving Gold River and headed to Portland, Oregon carrying about 100 tonnes of barley and wood pulp and likely had full fuel tanks as it headed out to sea, although coast guard officials are still trying to determine how much fuel remains in the vessel.

In its latest report, the coast guard’s Unified Command said sampling results indicate oil skimmed from the surface is similar to “historical Bunker C-type,” and remotely operated vehicles are showing leaks at multiple locations in the hull.

The command said oil is escaping at a rate of about one to four litres per hour, and in poor weather that is increasing to 11 to 13 litres per hour.

Several government agencies, private contractors and area First Nations are involved in monitoring wildlife and cleaning up the surface fuels and oily debris.

The Unified Command said 35,357 kilograms of oil and fouled debris have been recovered to date and 3,624 metres of boom have been deployed to contain fuels on the surface. Most of those are in the areas from Cheesish Reserve Bay and Tuta Marina through Bligh Island Gap and Anderson Point.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Unit have reported 10 orcas, seven humpback and six gray whales near the spill site, but none have been affected by the oil. The herring spawn is also being monitored.

Focus Wildlife is doing a wildlife assessment from Yuquot to Critter Cove to the outer Nootka Sound, and is testing a static deterrent cannon to veer birds and other wildlife away from affected areas. So far, the Unified Command has reported that one sea otter, a common murre and 18 gulls have been directly affected by the oil spill.

Resolve Marine will be using the Atlantic Condor as an operations platform.

The ship was most recently in Victoria, arriving from Nova Scotia to deliver two new Canadian Coast Guard lifeboats.

The federal government’s contract with Resolve Marine is worth $7 million.

A company from Newfoundland is also providing support with remote-operated vehicles, which are being tested now.

Work is expected to begin soon in locating and sealing leaks from MV Schiedyk’s hull.

A detailed survey of the ship is also expected to find the fuel tanks, which might have been moved when the ship was converted from steam power to diesel.

Fifteen vessels and several barges are involved in the cleanup and monitoring and an incident staging area for deployments and debris collection is set up near Gold River.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

— With files from Carla Wilson

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