Emergency responders just can’t catch a break in Queen Charlotte.
One month after a house exploded on Spruce Point, residents woke to a strange sight across the water and warnings of an explosive hazard on Sunday, Sept. 9 — this time from a floating HaiCo fishing lodge that somehow drifted loose from its anchor buoy in Alliford Bay and crashed onto the rocky east side of Lina Island during a storm.
All mariners are warned stay at least 0.2 nautical miles away in all directions.
No injuries were reported, and as of Tuesday afternoon, no gas or diesel has been seen leaking into the ocean. The barge has an estimated 18,000 litres of gas and 15,000 litres of diesel aboard.
But besides a spill, responders are grappling with the challenge of keeping crews safe while dealing with a barge hold where enough gas vapours have leaked that it has some potential to explode.
“Once they figure out this issue with the gas and make sure it’s not a danger to workers, we’ve got a lot of resources in place, both locally and with other people coming,” said HaiCo CEO Bob Brash, speaking Monday afternoon just as a specialized contractor was heading out to test the air inside the barge.
“People here are pretty resourceful, so I’m not too worried about patching the hull and pumping out the fuel — all those things we have to do before we move it back to Alliford Bay,” Brash said.
Anchored off Hippa Island during the fishing season, the lodge and Tasu I barge are owned by HaiCo’s West Coast Resorts and were scheduled to overwinter in Vancouver. Brash said it wasn’t yet clear why the Tasu I went adrift — the company has three lodges in Haida Gwaii and moves them several times a year without trouble.
“We’ve used that anchor buoy for many, many things, including barge tie-ups and logs. It’s sitting out there fine as can be,” he said, adding that the problem must have been the barge ropes, or something else.
A HaiCo staff person was aboard the barge all Saturday, including when it started drifting around 9 p.m. Overnight, an easterly storm blew with gusts of up to 90 km/h going straight into Skidegate Inlet.
The person managed to alert others that the barge was drifting, but the tugboat that delivered the Hippa Island lodge to Alliford Bay was away on the west coast collecting the other West Coast Resorts’ lodges.
Later on Saturday night and Sunday morning, local crews inspected the barge and were met by overpowering smells of gas. They saw the hull had been breached in several places after hitting boulders, and left with the person who had been on the barge. There was no sign of damage to the lodge itself.
The Eagle Bay Sentinel, a skimmer vessel, was dispatched Sunday by the West Coast Marine Response Corporation from Prince Rupert, and the Coast Guard vessels Gordon Reid and Cape St. James are also on scene.
Brash said once the contractor finished the air test, HaiCo will work with its contractor and other agencies to come up with a salvage plan. Without any big tides in the forecast, he said so long as the fuel issue is taken care of, they should have time to do the neccesary work on the barge.
“It ain’t moving anywhere,” he said.
Working on the response are the Haida Nation, Transport Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, the Village of Queen Charlotte, and the B.C. Ministry of Environment.