Another tug sinks off Gabriola bluffs

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, May 31 2016

The tugboat Albern sank off Gabriola’s west end on Tuesday, May 24, between the Gabriola Island bluffs and the Duke Point container yard, after being run over by the tug CT Titan.

Two crew members were on board the Albern and were rescued from the water by the crew of the Titan.

Both were underway from the log boom tie-up areas on Gabriola’s west end to Nanaimo at the time of the incident.

The Albern is now 122m (400 feet) under water, according to the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Port of Nanaimo and Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) responded to the incident with a containment boom to minimize pollution from any fluids leaking from the Albern.

Michelle Imbeau, Communications Advisor with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the Coast Guard Environmental Response staff will continue to monitor the area for changes - their mandate “is with regards to the potential to pollute local waters. Should the situation escalate, CCG Environmental Response personnel are ready to respond.”

David Mailloux, Communications Manager for the Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA), said on Thursday last week that monitoring for pollution occurred throughout the week, including sampling at False Narrows, Brickyard Beach and Descanso Bay.

“There was a release of an estimated 15 litres of oil this morning (Thursday). 

“There is going to be another assessment later on, as to what the next steps are going forward.”

As far as Mailloux was able to say, the tug will remain on the seabed. He was asked if that meant the remaining fuels and other potential pollutants on board would be removed.

“In most cases, if there is going to be a release, it will be at the time [of the incident].

“The containment because of the booms would have absorbed a predominant amount of it. That’s why it is important to get the report and react quickly.”

According to the Regional District of Nanaimo emergency services, the Albern had capacity for up to 1,500 litres of diesel on board, as well as 200 litres of hydraulic oil.

Mailloux said any further cleanup is then left to the owners of the tug. There is no requirement for the owners to salvage the tug or remove any pollutants from it.

In October of 2014, another tugboat, the Samantha J, sunk close to where the Albern went down last week, coming to rest upside down on the seabed. Mailloux confirmed the Samantha J has not been recovered.

If the same protocols were followed when the Samantha J went down, any pollutants which were on board and did not leak out at the time of the sinking are also still on board.

Asked how many vessels might be under water in the Port Authority jurisdiction, Mailloux said he was not able to say.

Not that the Authority wouldn’t have that information - just that he wasn’t able to give that number without talking to other NPA staff.

He said that in terms of the length of time that the vessel is under water, “if it’s going to release other pollutants, it depends on the dynamics of that vessel - if it is being rocked by currents - if there are more pollutants that are going to come up.”

“There are regular fly-overs and monitoring [in that area] - you would know in a hurry. 

“People are going over all the time with Helijet and the float plane operators. If there is something that is going to happen it would be picked up fairly quickly.

“It’s the users’ total responsibility - but there are agencies who can force the issue.”

A team of investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) were on scene by Thursday last week to gather information and assess the occurrence.

According to a statement issued by the TSB, the aim of the investigation is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

This is the latest reminder that Canada needs to strengthen the marine safety net protecting our coasts, says Sheila Malcolmson, the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

“Canadian Coast Guard, Nanaimo Port Authority and Western Canada Marine Response staff and vessels were on the scene last night and today. I’m thankful for their efforts and relieved no one was injured,” Malcolmson said. “As is the case with any sized spill, we don’t know what damage has been done to sensitive ecosystems

“That is why, as chair of the Islands Trust, I called years ago for geographic response planning to protect our unique coasts and marine environment from ship-source oil spills.”

Malcolmons said she wishes, “we had geographic response plans in place already.”