Attempt to Tow Grounded Tanker Ends in Failure

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On Tuesday evening, an attempt to tow a tanker grounded off Cape Breton ended in failure when the salvage contractor couldn’t remove enough ballast water from the ship.

What happened?

According to the Canadian Coast Guard, the removal of Arca 1, which ran aground Sunday north of Sydney Mines, had been scheduled to coincide with the evening high tide, around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The ship, which was sailing to Mexico from Montreal, lost engine power in a winter gale and its six-member crew had to be rescued by helicopter.  The vessel was carrying 15 tons of fuel for its engines.

Salvage contractor hired:

The contractor had been working to pump out ballast water since boarding the Arca 1 Tuesday afternoon but ran into some trouble with frozen pumps.

Coast Guard officials said additional pumps were brought on board, but the tide began to turn before enough water was removed to give the ship the necessary buoyancy.

Monitoring for next window:

The tow effort had to be abandoned around 7 p.m. and the Coast Guard said with inclement weather moving in, there will not be another attempt to move the ship on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s attempt involved two tugs, two Coast Guard vessels and two DFO conservation and protection vessels.

The contractor began pumping ballast water back onto the ship to give it more stability to ride out high seas and officials will monitor the weather for the next window of opportunity.

‘It may not come on the first try’

McKeil Marine Ltd. is the salvage company hired for the towing operation.  Vice-president Olous Boag said the company delayed an effort initially scheduled for Tuesday morning to give it more time to assess how the operation could be carried out.

The company, which has headquarters in Hamilton, Ontario, operates on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and the East Coast.

Boag said earlier Tuesday his firm would use its salvage tug Tim McKeil along with a smaller tug, the Kaliutik, to attempt to tow the vessel to Sydney harbor.

He said that while he was optimistic the vessel can be towed off, “it may not come at the first try.”

The process will be slow:

Senior coast guard response officer Keith Laidlaw said Tuesday that the towing process, once successfully completed, “will be very slow.” The vessel will be towed to Sydney harbor where it will be secured.

“During the whole operation, the coast guard will be monitoring.  We’ll have conservation protection vessels out there doing safety and security,” said Laidlaw.

Once in Sydney, “the vessel will be inspected for why the incident happened to start with,” he said.

He could not say if the Arca 1 will be permitted to continue its voyage to Mexico following the inspection.

Avoiding MV Miner scenario:

The prospect of having the ship hauled away just days after it ran aground was music to the ears of Amanda McDougall, the new municipal councilor in the area, who remembers the almost four-year fight to have the MV Miner removed from her community of Main-à-Dieu, N.S.

“Time is of the essence,” she said.  “You have to move fast.  The longer that boat stays there idle on the shoreline, the more precarious the situation becomes.”

When she heard that the Arca 1 had foundered off Little Pond, near Sydney Mines, she admits to feeling “nervously nostalgic.”  But those feelings have been somewhat allayed by the quick response of federal authorities who demanded that the Mexican owners of the vessel take responsibility right away.

“Making sure that the shipowner contracts a tug as soon as possible — that in itself was very reassuring because I know with the Miner that was the biggest problem,” she said.

“Had that action been taken immediately, we wouldn’t have had a vessel stuck on our shores for close to four years.”

The salvage team determined Monday night the vessel’s flat bottom wasn’t damaged and that a large amount of ballast water on the ship could be pumped off to increase the vessel’s buoyancy, he said.

“The good news is there are no breaches in the hull.  Watertight integrity is good,” said Boag.

He added the key challenge is to take the vessel off the bottom while the winds are blowing offshore.

The Mexican company, Petroil Marine SA, which owns the ship, is responsible for the costs of removing the tanker.

Booms in place:

On Monday, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the owner is co-operating with the Canadian government to organize and pay for the removal costs.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said that booms are in place around the vessel to protect against environmental damage.

A team from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is performing a technical analysis to determine what kind of mechanical failure left the boat adrift.  The team is also trying to figure out why the boat was sailing in a forecasted storm.

Arca 1 was last used in the Port of Montreal to ferry bunker fuel or diesel to other ships anchored in the port.  Previously, it ran fuel to Sarnia, Ontario, by way of the Great Lakes.

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Source: Canadian Press

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