A First Nation on B.C.'s coast where a fuel barge broke free of its tug in late November says it is relieved that the fuel-laden barge is finally departing its territory, and says the amount of fuel it was carrying was much more than initially reported.
The Zidell Marine 277 is a 129-metre loaded fuel barge that broke free from its tug, the Jake Shearer, on Nov. 26 off the coast of Bella Bella, B.C.. There were worries about a potential fuel spill while the barge was unmoored during gale force winds in the Queen Charlotte sound.
The barge dropped anchor that night and was eventually towed to safety near Bella Bella by a new tug on Nov. 27. The Earl W. Redd, another tug, will complete the barge's journey to Alaska.
The Canadian Coast Guard tweeted that the tug and barge were cleared to depart by Transport Canada on Saturday morning.
Incident #JakeShearer: Tug and barge have been cleared by @Transport_gc and safely proceeding to port of Ketchikan, Alaska. We will continue to monitor while tug and barge remain in Canadian waters. @SpillsInfoBC @VicJRCC_CCCOS— Canadian Coast Guard (@CCG_GCC) December 2, 2017
"We'll be relieved to see this vessel out of Heiltsuk waters, and we intend to make sure other vessels like it are regulated out of our waters for good," said Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation.
When the barge disconnected from its tug, it was reported that there were 3.5 million litres of diesel and nearly half a million litres of gasoline on board.
Slett, however, says the amount on board was actually much more. She says the barge was carrying 12.5 million litres of diesel and gasoline.
That number is reflected in a correction posted to the B.C. Government's incident response page.
"The Jake Shearer tug and fuel barge are carrying a combined total of approximately 12.4 million litres of gas and diesel fuel. They were originally reported to be carrying approximately 3.5 million litres of diesel and 500,000 litres of gasoline. These numbers were mistakenly understood as litres instead of gallons," the post reads.
For reference, an Olympic swimming pool holds 2.5 million litres of water.
"Indigenous communities bear the highest risk for marine shipping incidents," said Slett. "Now that we're nearing the end of this situation, it's terrifying to take a step back and think about what it could have been."
The Heiltsuk released a report earlier in November that called for an Indigenous Marine Response Centre to safeguard marine incidents.