Friday, March 24, 2006

Oil Continues to Flow from Queen of the North Wreck

Steve Mertl of Canadian Press has written an article on the Queen of the North ferry incident entitled "First view of sunken ferry could come Saturday afternoon, sub operator says". The article includes important information concerning the oil spill caused by the wreck. Steve quotes Phil Nuytten of Nuytco Research Limited as saying that a one-person submersible could be sent down to the wreck as early as Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, CTV Newsnet showed two Nuytco mini-subs loaded onto a trailer bed in North Vancouver, ready to head for the dive site several hundred miles to the north.

Among other things, Nuytco's Deepworker 2000 will look for the source of the spill that continues to leak from the sunken hulk. Also on CTV NewsNet, Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for BC Ferries, explained that the mini-sub will try to find out if the vessel's fuel tanks have been punctured, if oil is indeed leaking out, and whether the leak can be plugged.

Getting back to the Canadian Press article by Steve Mertl, finding the source of the leak is, understandably, a high priority for the BC Environment Ministry. Meanwhile, Andy Ackerman, who is refered to in the article as an "Incident Commander" is quoted as saying that the ship's diesel fuel continues to well up from the vessel "on a constant basis". We are also told that technicians are attempting to calculate the rate at which the oil is escaping, in the hopes of determining if it is slowing down ( or, I might add, speeding up, or even staying the same!).

At the surface and in the surrounding waters, booms have been deployed in an effort to contain "the sheen of diesel spreading from the wreck site". According to Ackerman, calmer weather has permitted some success in deploying the booms. ( He doesn't say, however, whether they've had any luck actually removing the oil from the surface with skimmers. Light, diesel oil tends to be problematic in this regard ). Ackerman adds that the combination of sun and wind have tended to "break down the spill".

As for what's happening at the shoreline, a SCAT ( short for Shoreline Cleanup Assesment Team ) has turned its attention to protecting sensitive areas and resources, including shellfish beds. Steve reports that a member of the Gitk'a'ta First Nation from nearby Hartley Bay is assisting the SCAT team.

So, this is one of the best progress reports we have had so far on the spilll response operation. On the one hand, the fact that oil is still reaching the surface is bad news for the environment. On the other hand, the fact that a manned submersible could actually reach the wreck site within eighteen hours of the vessel's sinking is a positive development, especially if the source ( or sources ) of the leak can be identified. The marine weather outlok for Saturday calls for showers and light to moderate southerly inflow winds, which bodes fairly well for the response and dive operation tomorrow.

This blog will try to keep you posted as events unfold. I know that some readers are relying on its postings as virtually the only source of information on the environmental aspects of this shipping disaster. For this reason, I shall try to be as timely, accurate and thorough as possible in summarising developments. Do let me know if you have anything to add to the narrative. I am particularly interested in spill trajectory analysis, as well as the thickness of the spill, and anything to do with currents.


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