'A very serious situation': Coast guard scrambles to clean spill from sunken freighter
VICTORIA -- A sunken relic that slipped beneath the waves off the western coast of Vancouver Island in the late 1960s is shifting from history to modern-day disaster.
Aerial images show a large fuel slick hugging the coast of Bligh Island, part of the ecologically sensitive Nookta Sound region.
“I’d always seen oil bubbling to the surface at that spot,” said pilot Dave Bazett. The aviator is the one who snapped recent images of the oil slick.
“On the 25th of November, it had really increased in volume, and so there was a plume of oil on the surface that was maybe a couple of kilometres long.”
According to the Canadian Coast Guard, reports of an oil sheen first started in September, but investigators were unable to find a source of the spill.
The coast guard now says more-frequent sheens have sparked further investigation and the source of the leak has been located.
The Canadian government says the MV Schiedyk, a 483-foot cargo ship built in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is the source.
The freighter sank off Vancouver Island in 1968 after running aground. Thirty-four crew survived the wreck.
The ship was carrying 2,130 tons of wood pulp and 1,000 tons of bulk barley en route to Portland, Ore. when it sank.
Underwater drone footage, released by the federal government, shows small strings of black oil or fuel hanging from the hull of the submerged vessel.
Local First Nations, B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and the coast guard are all now taking part in a unified response to the spill.
Booms have been strung out on the water to reduce the spread of the oil.
“I’d known there was a shipwreck on the bottom there. I didn’t know it was a 500-foot ship,” said Bazett.
The pilot said he’s concerned about the spill in the sensitive area and is glad the coast guard responded as quickly as they did.
“It’s a very serious situation,” he said.
The coast guard says it is now gathering historic information on the vessel’s fuel capacity and where the fuel tanks are located.
At this time, the agency says the fuel spilled in the Bligh Island area is considered minimal.
Dorothy Hunt, the lands and economic development manager for the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation (MMFN), says the local nation is "on high alert" to monitor the spill.
As you can imagine, with the tides and currents, the priorities can change quickly," Hunt said. "It is our hope that the spill does not head towards Yuquot, which is MMFN’s first village site."