Nootka Sound is a stunning and pristine part of western Vancouver Island but now – after five decades – a shipwreck that has been quietly resting on the ocean floor just off Bligh Island is causing environmental concerns.
“So I knew that there was a shipwreck there but I didn’t know what the magnitude of it was,” said Dave Bazett who flies over the area regularly. “It could be a real ticking time bomb.”
Bazett owns a cabin in Nootka Sound and has seen spots of fuel or oil on the surface for the last 10 to 15 years.
Then on October 25th, he saw a long slick and he knew it was more than a sunken fishing boat – something he previously thought.
“The flow changed and it went from a few spots on the surface to a constant plume of oil and it was probably several kilometres of oil along the shoreline,” he added.
The MV Schiedyk was a 483-foot cargo ship taking a load of wood pulp and bulk barley from Gold River to Portland, Oregon on January 3rd, 1968, but it didn’t get very far hitting a submerged ledge on the south side of Bligh Island before sinking.
34 crewmembers abandoned the shipwreck as it occurred, managing to survive.
Multi-beam sonar deployed this week has confirmed the Schiedyk is sitting upside down in about 360 to 400 feet of water.
An Incident Command Post (ICP) has been set up and the Canadian Coast Guard and the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, Hesquiaht First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Western Canada Marine Response and other partners are working together to respond to the situation. The ICP is under the direction of a Unified Command shared between the Canadian Coast Guard and the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
The coast guard had been getting reports of a mystery sheen on the surface since September. The belief then was that it was bilge discharge from passing vessels, but only this week the Coast Guard confirmed the leaking oil is coming from the sunken MV Schiedyk.
The Coast Guard said in a statement Friday, “the current amount of marine pollution upwelling from the area is minimal, and we are taking action now to assess and contain the immediate threat to prevent long term damage to the environment. “The current amount of oil upwelling is between 30-50 litres.”
“We can confirm the ship was carrying bunker fuel as well as other fuels such as diesel aboard. What we don’t know is how much fuel was released at the time of the grounding or how much fuel remains aboard the Schiedyk,” said Tyler Yager, Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Response for the Canadian Coast Guard, Western Region.
Several agencies were on-site Friday and over 3000 metres of boom has been put in place to protect areas of ecological and cultural sensitivity as the next move is planned.