Leaky Comox-Powell River ferry out for repairs for second time this year

A B.C. Ferries’ vessel approaching retirement is undergoing repairs for the second time this year on a part leaking oil into the ocean.

The Queen of Burnaby has been temporarily removed from service on the Comox-Powell River route to repair a propeller hub.

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The Crown corporation would not speculate on the cost of the repair and said the costs of the same repair in January was not readily available.

“The Queen of Burnaby has developed an oil leak in its starboard, or right-hand, propeller. It’s leaking about 25 litres of oil per day into the water. This is, of course, an environmental concern and we have to fix it as soon as possible,” said Mark Collins, the corporation’s vice-president of strategic planning.

“As far as we can tell, it’s been leaking about seven days.”

B.C. Ferries did not undertake a cleanup.

The oil is a special, environmentally acceptable lubricant, Collins said. Such lubricants are considered biodegradable and non-toxic and do not bioaccumulate in organisms.

“It’s biodegradable and it doesn’t have a sheen. But it also gives us a challenge. It’s so clean that it’s hard to spot,” he said.

B.C. Ferries switched lubricants on the Queen of Burnaby after another leak.

The same vessel was out of service for three weeks in January, when the propeller hub was found to be leaking traditional oil. B.C. Ferries believes that leak lasted between five and seven days. Crews used booms and soaker pads to clean what they could, but much of it evaporated, Collins said.

Tom Okey, Pew fellow in marine conservation and adjunct professor in environmental studies at the University of Victoria, said vessels regularly leak small amounts of oil. The problem is the cumulative effects on marine ecosystems, he said.

“The issue is not necessarily the moderate or medium amount of spill that B.C. Ferries has. The issue is that when you add any contaminant to a stressed system, then there are synergistic effects on the overall system,” Okey said.

“Oil is just one of the contaminants that is an issue in the Salish Sea.”

For the January repair, B.C. Ferries used original parts from the manufacturer, brought in authorized representatives and had its own experts oversee the process, Collins said.

“We are struggling to understand why these repairs don’t take,” he said. “We certainly regret this. We regret the impact this is having on the community. It’s peak tourist season, which is never a good time for this. We’re working with the community to mitigate the impacts as much as we can.”

The 51-year-old vessel is due for retirement early next year. It will be replaced by the $84-million Salish Orca — the first of three new liquefied natural gas-fuelled vessels joining the fleet.

The Queen of Burnaby is expected to return to regularly scheduled service on July 29.

While the vessel is out of service, the MV Island Sky will operate on a modified schedule, providing service between Comox, Texada Island and Powell River. The North Island Princess and MV Quinitsa will operate on the Saltery Bay-Earls Cove route on a modified schedule.

Complimentary travel will be offered to customers travelling to and from Texada Island. A 40-person water taxi service will carry foot passengers between Texada Island and the government dock next to Westview Terminal in Powell River. It will operate according to regularly published sailing times for the Texada Island-Powell River route.

A full schedule is available at bcferries.com/schedules.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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