Drifting Fuel Barge of Pacific Northwest

B.C. residents outraged over fuel barge found drifting off coast

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver SunJanuary 6, 2009

VANCOUVER — A barge loaded with jet fuel drifted aimlessly on B.C.'s central coast, possibly for days, before a local resident found it washed ashore on an isolated island — possibly preventing an environmental disaster. Coastal residents believe a catastrophe was avoided only by sheer luck because the tug was removed from Denny Island, about 600 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, only hours before strong winds hit the area. They accused the Canadian Coast Guard of all but ignoring the incident involving the barge owned by Black Tusk Helicopter Inc. of Squamish, B.C. "People are very upset around here," said Ian McAllister, an environmentalist and award-winning author and photographer from Denny Island. "We were very close to having a fairly major fuel spill and no one seems to be paying attention."

Craig Widsten is owner of Shearwater Marine Group on Denny Island, the company responsible for providing oil-spill response in the area. He said in an interview Monday that a Bella Bella resident spotted the 33-by-nine-metre barge, Pacific Bunker 1, aground on rocks Dec. 31. No one knows when the rogue barge detached from where it was supposed to be anchored — about 25 kilometres away, Widsten said. "There wasn't a watchman looking after things at this time of the year. It sort of disappeared. It was probably out there for a day or two." Widsten said his crew first investigated the barge on Jan. 1 and "found it was banged up pretty bad. It had a lot of holes in it. It was jammed on the beach." Five of six tanks in the hull were punctured, but the fuel had been stored in two other tanks on the deck. Crews pumped out about 20,000 litres of fuel, then towed the barge before strong winds hit the area on Sunday.

McAllister said it's incredible Black Tusk did not know its own barge was "drifting around the central coast banging up against rocks and God knows what" for potentially days. Nor is he impressed with the lack of interest the Canadian Guard Guard showed about the missing barge. "The coast guard didn't take this very seriously at all." Date Bate, spokesman for the Canadian Coast Guard, said they were not aware of the incident until Sunday, but are happy the barge was recovered without causing significant pollution. Transport Canada is now investigating, he said.

Black Tusk officials would not discuss the incident.

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All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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