Urgent action is being taken to stop oil leaking from a 50-year-old shipwreck in Nootka Sound, and taxpayers are on the hook.
On Jan. 3, 1968, the 483-foot MV Schiedyk cargo ship struck a submerged ledge off Bligh Island, sank and came to rest 350 feet below the surface. But it wasn’t until late last fall that the wreck started leaking bunker oil and other fuels into Zuciarte Channel.
Now the federal government has signed a $5.7 million emergency contract with a Florida-based company to pump the remaining fuel out of the wreck and prevent further pollution of the surrounding marine environment.
Resolve Marine Group has worked on multiple wrecks and cleanups, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. After being called in earlier this year to assess the situation, the company identified two tanks containing heavy fuel oil, as reported in a June 9th Times Colonist story.
An estimated 147,000 litres of fuel remain in the tanks.
Since the leak was first noticed last December, officials estimate the damaged wreck has been leaking oil at a rate of between one and four litres per hour.
The MV Schiedyk was built in Ireland in 1948 and was leaving Gold River bound for Portland, Oregon carrying 100 tonnes of barley and wood pulp when it sank. It likely had full fuel tanks.
Resolve Marine Group plans to drill a hole in the fuel tank from the outside, attach a drainage valve and then pump the fuel out of the tank through a hose attached to the valve. There is the possibility of a sudden surge of fuel, so Canadian Coast Guard response crews will be standing by.
The Mowachaht Muchalat First Nation is relieved that pumping work will start mid-June, an operation that is expected to take two weeks. Since last fall, the nation has been working with the environment ministry and coast guard to monitor the fuel leak and protect beaches and marine life in their Nootka Sound traditional territory using three kilometres of absorbent oil booms. Spill response workers have also removed more than 40,000 kilograms of oil-soaked driftwood.
The ship sank before the Marine Liability Act came into effect, a regulation that holds polluters responsible for clean-up.