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Adrift Russian ship raises concerns about Northern Gateway tankers

A Russian cargo ship carrying 400 tons of bunker oil, 50 tons of diesel, mining materials and related chemicals is adrift off the west coast of Haida Gwaii and is raising concerns about similar situations occurring if the Northern Gateway pipeline project with its accompanying 225 supertankers moves forward.

At this time, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel has tried three times to attach tow lines to the Russian carrier Simushir, but all three lines have snapped. The waves off the coast of Haida Gwaii have reportedly been as high as four metres. CBC reports, “Two other vessels, the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier and U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar, are standing by to provide assistance, but aren’t properly equipped to secure and tow a large ship, [Navy Lt. Cmdr. Desmond] James said.”

CBC British Columbia tweeted at 6:00 pm PT that the American oceangoing tug Barbara Foss had reached the cargo ship. There is hope that it will be able to secure and direct the ship.

The Vancouver Observer adds, “Haida Gwaii Watchmen program manager Anita (Upsy) Moody said the communities near Haida Gwaii are deeply concerned about the oil-laden Russian container ship… ‘It would be devastating if there was a spill. A lot of people depend on the ocean for food’, she said, noting that people in her community rely on fish such as halibut and salmon.”

In terms of preparedness, “Moody said the closest coast guard search and rescue station was in Sandspit [on Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii]. However, emergency response vessels are 20 hours away from Haida Gwaii. …Haida Council President Peter Lantin [says] the coast guard was unprepared for an incident like this, and that promises of ‘world class oil tanker safety’ [with the Northern Gateway project] were not to be believed.”

British Columbia’s environment minister Mary Polak appears to agree. Global News reports, “Polak admits B.C. does not have the means to deal with a marine spill. …Polak says that is the reason why Christy Clark’s government has been opposed to Enbridge’s proposal to build the Northern Gateway pipeline that got a go-ahead from the federal government in June. …She says while Enbridge made many commitments, they did not show any evidence they could marshal a sufficient response.”

For his part, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has simply tweeted a ‘thank you’ to the Coast Guard for the “great work they are doing off the coast of the Haida Gwaii off the coast of BC.”

In June his government made the controversial decision to give conditional approval to the Northern Gateway project. In July, the Council of the Haida Nation, the Gitxaala Nation and other First Nations filed for leave to apply for a judicial review by the Federal Court of Appeal of this decision. The Gitga’at First Nation is also seeking a declaration of aboriginal title over their traditional territory where the supertankers would travel.

The Council of Canadians opposes the Northern Gateway pipeline project.