Sunken vessel causing pollution concerns near Campbell River

Sunken vessel causing pollution concerns near Campbell River

The Trailer Princess was surrounded by oil containment booms in Duncan Bay, north of Campbell River Wednesday as it sat on the ocean floor in about six metres of water.

The vessel is moored at the former Elk Falls mill site.

The Canadian Coast Guard said it was first reported on February 14 by a helicopter pilot flying over the area.

Since then, others, including those in the Campbell River tourism industry have been keeping a close eye on it.

“I took a bit of a right turn to come and have a look and sure enough, this thing appeared to be sitting on the bottom and leaking quite significantly at that point,” said Leigh Nelson, vice-president of the Campbell River Association of Tour Operators.

The Coast Guard confirmed to CHEK News that the barge is confirmed to be grounded, bow heavy, and slightly listing to the port side.

Nelson says wildlife in the area could be impacted by any leaking fuel which would, in turn, affect whale watching companies and fishing charters.

“We have tourism season coming up. We’ve got a lot of wildlife in the area. There are seals looking at me right now as I’m speaking to you,” Nelson said. “I know we also had a group of about 20 or more killer whales that swam by here the other day while the boat was leaking.”

The Trailer Princess has had many uses since it was built in 1944 for the US Navy. It was once a CP Rail ferry and Helifor Logging used converted it to a camp and a helicopter landing and refuelling barge.

It was sold again but it is unclear who owns it now.

“Well, the issue is it’s there and how long is it going to be there for,” said Dean Parsonage, owner of 50 North Adventures.

The Coast Guard tells CHEK News that dive crews have plugged holes in the hull and that about 34,000 litres of gasoline, diesel, and Jet “A” fuel has been recovered from the barge.

Skimming operations also removed approximately 1,500 litres of hydrocarbons contained within the hull of the vessel.

“A second layer of containment boom was also added around the barge as additional protection. The boom was also at the ready shoreline to protect sensitive areas if necessary,” said a Coast Guard statement.

On Feb. 20, the Coast Guard said it was determined that the remaining free-floating hydrocarbons contained within the Trailer Princess’ hull had created a hazardous work environment. All work within the hull was ordered to stop.

Crews continued to remove recoverable product from within the containment. In addition, 2,500 pounds of soiled sorbents were recovered.

“The Coast Guard is doing as good a job as it can but how come these vessels are allowed to be there in the first place when they’re that dilapidated?” asked Parsonage. “Why aren’t these things having surveys and being condemned? I have to have my fishing boat surveyed every five years for insurance, so why aren’t things like that being surveyed?”

Local First Nation Guardians are assessing the site twice a week to check for potential impacts to sensitive areas.

“The Canadian Coast Guard is currently working with HAZMAT contractors to determine a plan to safely remove the free-floating hydrocarbons within the hull,” the Coast Guard said in a statement. “This may also involve removing the barge from the marine environment, as the barge contains interior tanks that cannot be accessed while it remains in the water.”

The Coast Guard did not indicate how much fuel it believes is still on the barge.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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