High waves challenge for crews lifting sunken tugboat off B.C. coast

By The Canadian Press
November 13, 2016 - 4:08pm

BELLA BELLA, B.C. - As crews prepare the daunting task of lifting a 30-metre tug that sank off British Columbia's central coast, the local First Nation says the federal government is hiding information about the environmental impact of the incident.

More than 100,000 litres of diesel and other pollutants were spilled when the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground on Oct. 13, about 28 kilometres from the community of Bella Bella and just off the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest.

A release from the Heiltsuk Nation says the federal government is withholding findings from early environmental assessments of the site.

The release says analytic data from samples collected by the federal Fisheries Department that were passed on to the Environment Ministry have not been made available to the Heiltsuk Nation.

The findings could contain critical information that would affect decisions made by the Heiltsuk Nation around human and environmental health, the First Nation says.

A spokesperson from the Environment Ministry was not available for comment on the allegations on Friday.

Heiltsuk Incident Commander Jess Housty said the refusal to share data betrays the values agreed upon by the Unified Command — a spill response team that includes the First Nation, federal and provincial governments, and representatives of the company that owns the tug.

Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said the government departments "have clearly missed the message on federal reconciliation."

"We shouldn't have to fight these battles just to get access to information about disasters on our doorstep," Slett said in a statement.

An incident report from the unified command Friday says the tug has been moved half way into deeper waters where it will be easier to raise.

Crews are expected to begin lifting the sunken vessel on Saturday.

A rough sea prevented crews from inflating air bags to lift the bow earlier this week.

Despite the challenges, a cradle to lift the tug and the receiving barge the vessel will be placed on were placed in position Friday.

A boom that will contain any additional pollutants has also been set up around the receiving barge.

A Heiltsuk spokesperson said the process of repositioning the tug has released more diesel and pollutants into the water, and the sheen on the surface of the water is expanding.

Environmental assessments are continuing with dive and boat teams collecting samples of water, vegetation and wildlife in the region.

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