After causing panic when it became adrift off the coast of Haida Gwaii on Oct. 17, the Simushir sailed away from Prince Rupert on Friday.
The Russian general cargo vessel has left behind unnerving thoughts of a disaster that could have been and worries about marine emergency response time in the minds of North Coast residents.
“We are relieved and thankful that the unfolding environmental disaster was averted,” said Haida Nation president Peter Lantin, who also thanked the crew that put themselves at risk to protect Haida Gwaii.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone considers 20 hours a world-class response time. The fact of the matter is that the federal government has little interest in protecting the west coast,” said Lantin.
After berthing at the Fairview Container Terminal in Prince Rupert last Monday, the Simushir’s broken engine oil cooling pump, which caused the vessel to lose power, was replaced. Cargo that shifted on the ship’s deck during stormy weather conditions were also secured.
Michael Gurney, Prince Rupert Port Authority manager of corporate communications, said a second captain was flown in on Oct. 22, as the voyage’s original captain continues to recover in Canada.
On the evening of Oct. 24, the ship and its crew departed from Prince Rupert.
After it become adrift in the early hours of Oct. 17, a towline couldn’t be secured on the Simushir until U.S. Tugboat Barbara Foss arrived from Prince Rupert on the morning of Oct. 19.
Barry Pages, SQCRD chair, said the close call has the regional district extremely concerned with the amount of assets available to respond in case of a marine emergency.
“With the tanker traffic proposed for the North Coast in future years, we think the government needs to look at increasing resources somewhere on the North Coast,” Pages said, stating the regional district has written the federal and provincial governments.
The Barbara Foss isn’t permanently stationed in Prince Rupert, but Gurney said it’s frequently in the area.
“It’s here every 12 days or so … it’s certainly no stranger to Prince Rupert,” he said.
Gurney noted there are three tugs based in Prince Rupert that would have been strong enough to tow the adrift vessel, with the decision to call on the Barbara Foss being made by the Simushir’s owner.
But Prince Rupert city councillor Gina Garon said the city should push for coast guard, search and rescue and Navy presence on Haida Gwaii.
“If there was a disaster over there it would have been a pretty large disaster, so I think we need to take some large measures. I’m not willing to walk lightly on this, I think we really need to put a push on it,” Garon said.