The Canadian Coast Guard recently announced it will be watching over the removal of pollutants including oil from a sunken WWII U.S. Army vessel near Prince Rupert.
The coast guard will oversee what it’s calling a “significant environmental protection operation,” with Public Works and Government Services Canada currently seeking proposals for a pair of third-party contractors. The first contractor will conduct the oil removal operation with the second group providing oil response services in case oil leaks from the vessel as the operation takes place.
“The goal is to clean the vessel to the maximum degree possible with the understanding there’s people in the neighbourhood that depend on the fishery. We want to limit their exposure to these pollutants,” Roger Girouard, the Canadian Coast Guard’s assistant commissioner of the western region, said.
The U.S.S. Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski ran aground in 1946 during a storm and sank in the Grenville Channel, near Hartley Bay and approximately 100 kilometres south of Prince Rupert. The Zalinski came to rest upside down in 34 metres of water about 20 metres from the shore of Hartley Bay.
While Gitga’at Nation Chief Councillor Arnold Clifton could not be reached for comment, Hartley Bay Councillor Marven Robinson said the Gitga’at Nation will be watching over the operation with a close eye.
“It’s only taken how many years of the Zalinski leaking before we’re finally able to do something…? We’re going to watch it close and see how it’s dealt with,” Robinson said, the nation wants to be as included as possible in the process.
The Zalinski was first put on the coast guard’s radar in 2003 when Bunker C oil began surfacing in the area. Prior, the vessel’s location was unknown.
The ship’s manifest showed the vessel’s capacity for 700 tonnes of fuel. Girouard said because the size of upwelling oil wasn’t significant, the coast guard’s initial sense was there wasn’t much original oil remaining on board.
Girouard said that opinion shifted over the past few years.
“The last few years there’s been an increase in the size and severity of the spills. We’ve gone down and done some patching, but decided … the trend line wasn’t very good and decided to go forward with a plan to remove the pollutants and get in front of this issue instead of let time and weather give us a situation that wouldn’t be very pretty,” he said.
Girouard said when coast guard divers went down to view the vessel, they noticed the ship’s rivets had popped, allowing oil to escape the vessel.
The leak of oil isn’t continual, which Girouard said has the coast guard wondering if they are just pockets of oil escaping.
“Maybe when we get down there we’ll realize it’s only pockets we need to clean up. It may be that some of the fuel tanks are still intact and we have to bring up an awful lot,” he said.
While the first priority will be to remove as much oil from the vessel as possible, the mission will also include cleaning other pollutants off the vessel. Girouard said there was some dry cargo on the Zalinski when it sank, including paint cans, turpentine cans, and 40 gallon drums of diesel oil.
Robinson said an issue he has with the operation is that it doesn’t address the ammunition remaining in the vessel.
“I don’t know enough about how [the ammunition] will react over time … I don’t know how long it will take for it to become harmful,” he said.
The operation is expected to start in September and conclude in December.