A dramatic underwater operation saved the day as First Nations and the Canadian Coast Guard teamed up to recover a fuel truck submerged 35 metres deep, preventing an environmental catastrophe.
On April 20, during a windstorm, a fuel truck carrying 17,000 litres of diesel fuel slid off a barge heading to a logging camp on Hardwicke Island in Johnstone Strait. The truck sank 35 metres beneath the ocean surface, and some of its cargo began leaking.
A coordinated response involved the First Nations Guardians from We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, and K’omoks First Nations, the Canadian Coast Guard, the province of British Columbia, and barge owner Marine Link.
Chancellor Channel’s waters are environmentally sensitive and culturally significant to local First Nations, including critical fish habitats. K’omoks First Nation Chief Ken Price expressed the tense and nerve-wracking nature of the recovery operation.
“The difficulty of the recovery? For myself I’ve never been involved in anything like this. Neither have any of the Guardians. For us, it was very tense, nerve-wracking,” Price said.
[Image of the barge and crane]
After eight days of preparation, the recovery began. A barge carrying a crane was moved into position to lift the fuel truck. Divers made multiple trips to level the truck and arrange rigging around it.
“It was a huge endeavor just to get organized for the lift,” said Barb Dinning, Marine Planning Coordinator of Kanwakolas Council.
She said fortunately, the weather held out and didn’t hamper the critical recovery effort. Once the truck was leveled, the remaining diesel fuel was siphoned out.
“The day of the lift couldn’t have been better weather. It was just calm, no wind, warm. So there was minimal release of diesel,” Dinning said.
Despite the ordeal, only a fraction of the diesel on board leaked into the ocean, thanks to the quick action and local knowledge of First Nations.
Matthew Walker, Deputy Superintendent of Marine Environmental and Hazard Response at the Canadian Coast Guard, praised the successful partnership with First Nation Guardians.
“They are on the water monitoring year-round, it’s part of their stewardship. Part of their work is developing a relationship with the Coast Guard, and other partners training for these situations,” Walker said.
“It’s an absolute success story for the environment. That was everybody’s goal. But also as a group we all came together,” Price said.
The Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the cause of the incident.