Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Queen of the North Oil Spill Response Effort Winding Down?

Eight days after the Queen of the North ferry sank and started discharging oil and fuel oil from its berth on the seabed, under 1400 ft. of water, the response operation appears to be winding down. The last press release was issued Tuesday, the 28th of March, and appears to indicate that the only plan from here on in is to monitor the situation, which we are told has "stabilised", whatever that means. It seems the BC Environment Ministry was ready to pull the plug on the operation, but in response to flak from the community of Hartley Bay, Burrard Clean has decided to stay in the area beyond Friday.

Why do the responders apppear to be about to fold their tents? Well, for one thing, it appears that the leak from the wreck has slowed to a trickle. Also, the cleanup operation was somewhat futile to begin with. Of course, economics also play a role: oil spill response operations can get pretty darned expensive.

Who can blame the authorities for planning an exit strategy? I mean, after all, booms and skimmers don't work on light diesel, and sorbents are of limited utility when the oil is spread so far and wide. I guess it's just that old standby response strategy of: "Let nature take its course", is it not? You know, the prefered strategy of most response organisations around the world.

But, a lot of hard questions remain, and answers are few and far between. For instance, I have a few queries for the Incident Commander. I would like to know the following:

1- What has happened to all the ribbons of oil that were displayed on those nice maps you put out? Have they all dispersed, dissolved and evaporated? If so, why not put out a new, updated map indicating that? And what about those pockets of oil around Fin Island?

2- What have the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams (SCAT) found? For instance, how many kms of beaches and rocky shoreline are oiled or soiled, and what is the plan to mitigate the effects?

3- What kind of wildlife have been impacted, aside from three groggy birds? There have been reports of an oiled seal, for instance; is there any truth to that?

4- How much oil do you estimate escaped from the vessel, and how much remains? Is it all coming from one tank, two tanks, or do you not know?.

5- You say the flow rate has slowed considerably. The last estimate you provided was 50 litres per hour, which could have meant the spill would go on for months and months. What is the current flow rate, and how long do you think the tank or tanks will continue to empty out?

6- It seems the mini-sub did its job and headed home; is that right? We saw some nice still shots and video of the vessel's stern and hull, but what about the source of the leak or leaks? Did they find anything? How exhaustive was their search? How many leaks did they find? Are the tanks below sea level?

7- If leaks were found from the sunken hulk, what is the plan - to staunch them, suction the oil out of the tanks, encase the vessel in concrete, perhaps?

8- What about the clam beds, and the seaweed harvest, and the coming herring spawn, and the imminent arrival of killer whales? What are your contingency plans for each of these? Are you just going to monitor these elements, and hope for the best, or are you taking any concrete steps to protect them? Is there a shellfish closure in effect, and if so, where?

9- Who is monitoring the surface above the wreck to determine whether oil reoccurs, and at what rate? Is Coast Guard on scene for that, or local fishing boats, or what?

Whale Expert Provides First Hand Account of Queen of the North Oil Spill Response

Hermann Meuter of Cetacealab, a whale research station at the southern end of Gil Island, near where the Queen of the North ferry sank a week ago, has provided this personal account of his boat trip to the spill incident area. I am reprinting his observations in their entirety, unedited.

"Hello Gerald,

I wanted to give you an update on what we know is going on around Gil Island regarding the oil spill. We had a chance to get out on the water on Sunday, the day the underwater cameras were deployed.

We travelled north in Whale Channel to the side close to the shoreline. We were not able to find any spilled diesel along that shore. Having said that, it is very difficult to make out any spill from a boat, compared to a bird eye view a plane or helicopter would provide. We later scanned the beaches around Farrant and Fin Island helping out the people of Hartley Bay to find any debris, especially life jackets, left from the Queen of the North.

There were at least four boats from Hartley Bay working the beaches. It sure looks like that they are left to do the major part of the clean up. The north side of Fin Island seems to be affected quite heavily from the diesel. A seal haulout along that shoreline is covered in diesel, no seals on the rock which is very unusual. High winds prevented the boats to travel the west side of Fin Island. An unconfirmed report states that the diesel has reached the Estevan Island group.

As of this morning it sounds like that Burrard Clean is going to stop recovering the spill soon as there is not much diesel coming to the surface. At that point the people of Hartley Bay and this ecosystem will slowly vanish off the public eye.

We are expecting the first pods of Killer whales soon in this area. We will do our best to monitor their movements through the area and their possible contact with the spilled oil.


Hermann Meuter"

Monday, March 27, 2006

More Details Emerge as to Queen of the North Oil Spill Response

According to a CBC News story posted on its web site Monday morning, the 225,000 litres of diesel fuel in the sunken Queen of the North's fuel tanks are leaking out at the rate of 50 litres per hour. It is not clear from the article whether the leak is from both of the tanks, or just one. If it is just one, then at the current flow rate it would take just over three months for the tank to empty. If both tanks are leaking, it could take up to six months. Of course, that's not to say that all the oil will escape; for one thing, officials will be trying their utmost to staunch the flow, and hopefully they will be able to do this within a matter of days. But, it does give one an idea of the magnitude of the task confronting the responders.

The same CBC News report indicates that the following resources are involved in the cleanup:

- two fishing vessels
- two tugboats
- two equipment barges
- three support boats
- one skimmer
- 3 kms of floating boom

Notably absent from this list is any mention of Canadian Coast Guard vessels. Nor is the Coast Guard represented on the Joint Incident Command team, according to details included in the latest press release issued by the BC Environment Ministry, who seem to have taken de facto control of the response operation. The Coast Guard's role appears to be relegated to the relatively minor role of calculating the flow rate of oil from the wreck; using free software from NOAA, this can be done in a matter of minutes if you know the dimensions of the fuel tanks, the amount of oil in the tanks, the rate of flow, etc.

The Coast Guard's mandated role in a response operation such as this is that of FMO, or Federal Monitoring Officer. That is to say, it keeps an eye on things, and if it feels at any stage that the RP ( Responsible Party ) is either unwilling or unable to act, then it will intervene, taking over repsonsibility for the operation. There is no indication that this stage will ever be reached in the case of the Queen of the North incident.

As for the state of the wreck on the bottom of the sea, a BC Ferries press release Sunday night indicated that the 145 metre-long sunken hulk of the Queen of the North "is resting in silt on her keel", intact, in 1400 ft. of water. ( For those of you on metric, 1400 ft. is 427 metres. ). On CBC Radio News morning, a reporter in Prince Rupert added that the silt the vessel was resting in came right up to the level of the passanger deck.

In terms of the spill's environmental impact, a Vancouver Sun/Canadian Press story by Darah Hansen, with files from Jonathan Fowlie, cites Mark West of Burrrard Clean, BC Ferries' RO or Reponse Orgnaization, as saying that clam beds are protected from the oil because they are "deep below the water in a muddy substrate", whereas the oil is on the water's surface. This makes it "...harder for the fuel to penetrate the shellfish". The article also has Nick Russo of Environment Canada indicating that "...clams would be tested after they were harvested to see if they were contaminated".

Another article, this one by the Canadian Press and posted on the web site, cites Mark as saying that protective booming has been placed around the shellfish beds, with limited effectiveness.

Finally, Nick Russo of Environment Canada reported Monday that three birds were found that had apparently been stressed by the spill.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ministry Issues First Queen of the North Spill Update

BC's Ministry of the Environment yesterday issued the first Information Update related to the Queen of the North oil spill and the related response effort. The press release includes a very useful map of the incident area, including locations of diesel sheens and protective booms.

Four sensitive areas have been identified, including two on Gil Island, one at Kulkayu and one at Crane Bay ( to protect an oyster bed, we are told ).

Aerial reconnaissance of Grenville Channel, Farren Island and Fin Island has also been completed by the SCAT ( Shoreline Assessment and Cleanup ) team. Pockets of oil were identified.

Impacts on wildlife have not been found so far, and major impacts are not expected, we are told.

Today, Sunday, the response team hopes to target two new sites for booming and sorbent sweeping: Hawk and Crane Bays.

Queen of the North Oil Spill Response Operation Continues

Judging by TV images of the Queen of the North spill response effort, attempts to clean up oil spewing from the wreck of the sunken vessel appear to be somewhat ineffective. This is mainly due to the nature of the oil itself: light, No. 2 diesel is virtually impossible to skim off the surface of the ocean. The best bet is probably to use sorbents, and to deploy deflective boom along sensitive shoreline. Still, booms won't work if the winds and waves whip the oil either over or under the boom, or if the boom gets ripped up. Fortunately, today's marine weather forecast bodes well for the cleanup effort and deployment of mini-subs.

Environment Canada says that a weak low pressure system west of the Queen Charlottes is expected to dissipate as it drifts northward today, Sunday. The forecast calls for cloudy periods, with a few showers. Over northern waters, moderate to strong southeasterlies are anticipated along the coast, easing as the trough moves off today. Winds will ease to light to moderate easterlies tonight. Winds will be northerly outflow of 15 knots, shifting to southerly inflow winds of 10 to 15 knots this afternoon, easing to light this evening. Overnight, the winds should rise to northerly outflow, 10 to 15 knots. The outlook for 24 hours from now is for light to moderate variable winds. All in all, then, another balmy day on the wet coast of Canada.

Regrettably, there is still no information from the authorities as to how much oil has spilled to date, or how thick it is. Precious little information has also been provided as to weather conditions, currents, tides, spill trajectory, the number of vessels and personnel involved in the operation, etc. At this stage, five days into the biggest BC marine oil spill in almost twenty years, we don't even know the coordinates, i.e. latitude and longitude, for the wreck. The only thing that's been issued is a map showing the approximate location of the wreck, just off the northeast tip of Gil Island in Wright Sound.

On Saturday evening, CTV's Vancouver affiliate, as well as Global TV in Vancouver, both showed aerial footage of four response vessels in close proximity to one another near the shoreline. Boom was strung out from one of the vessels, just trailing behind in the water. There was no evidence of any mechanical skimmers in the water, trying to collect the oil. Instead, what this viewer could see was a fairly large swath of sheen, perhaps fifty to one hundred metres in width, stretching from a point perhaps one half of a nautical mile offshore right up to the adjacent shoreline. The location of this slick would appear to indicate the position above the wreck of the sunken ship.

The CTV reporter introducing the story was heard to say that the leaking fuel covered an area "larger than Vancouver". ( Gee whiz! I sure hope the belugas at the Vancouver Acquarium have been relocated, and the entire city cordoned off! ). One hopes that precautions are being taken to protect the response vessels and their crews from any hazards associated with the presence of the diesel fuel on the surface of the water, such as noxious vapours or possible explosion. It looks good to the public to see lots of vessels and activity at the site of a high profile oil spill, but the question is: is the operation safe? If it isn't, it should be shut down immediately, because safety is paramount, always trumping image.

Meanwhile, designated "Incident Commander" Andy Ackerman of the BC Environment Ministry seems to have taken on the mantle of official spokesperson for the responders, attempted to provide a relatively upbeat assessment of the response effort on both the CTV and Global newscasts. He reported that four booms, totalling 5500 feet in length, plus a U-shaped boom at the site of the wreck, had been deployed so far. The diesel is, he says, "breaking up", the sheen has spread ( That doesn't sound terribly positive to me! ), and officials were keeping a "really close watch" on the situation ( i.e. That's all they can do, really - stand by and look busy! ). All in all, he considered the situation to be "very fortunate", and was "very pleased how we're moving along". He went on to say that "We're moving along much quicker than we thought we would be." ( I wonder what that is supposed to mean, since the oil is apparently still leaking from the sunken hulk, and the authorities have not given any indication that one ounce of oil has been removed from the surface. )

It was also reported on CTV that the barge carrying the two mini-subs from North Vancouver was expected to arrive on scene Saturday night at 8 PM local time ( 0400 hrs Zulu Time Sunday ), and to get to work examining the hulk on Sunday. That operation is expected to take up to a week.

For its part, the Transportation Safety Board reported Saturday that when the vessel ran aground, she apparently sustained damage all along her starboard side, from bow to stern.

Canadian Press reported Saturday that local people from Hartley Bay are seeing oil on the shoreline. "Rocks are slippery and you can see it (oil ) on the seaweed". The properties of diesel fuel are such that half of it evaporates in the water within 48 hours; unfortunately, the other half can be very toxic to wildlife in the vicinity. We are told that "(t)he community harvests halibut, salmon, cod, seaweed and shellfish such as clams and mussels..." The salmon run is expected to start in June.

It remains a total mystery as to how such a large ship, with such a highly-skilled and experienced crew, and so much sophisticated navigational gear on board, could be so far off course for so long without either of the two crew on the bridge noticing that anything was amiss. A very rough calcuation indicates that from the time the vessel left Grenville Channel to the moment of impact, twelve minutes probably elapsed. It seems that during all this time the vessel was headed directly for Juan Point on Gil Island, where it eventually ran up against an object roughly the size of Salt Spring Island. So, it looks like the automatic pilot might be the culprit, as this faulty course is what you would end up with if you just continued along the course that got you through narrow Grenville Channel. One possibility is that the retiring crew, which we are told had been replaced shortly before the incident occured, neglected to tell the replacement crew on the bridge that the automatic pilot was still on. Either that, or the replacement crew forgot to change course when it came on duty. But, how that crew could apparently go twelve minutes without noticing anything was wrong on the GPS, the radar, the compass, the sonar, or even by using visual sight, is one of the big questions that remains unanswered. Because, when she hit Gil Island, it seems that the Queen of the North was a full five degrees off course, with tragic results. Reports suggest that even some passengers could see Gil Island to starboard before impact; if they could, why couldn't the two crewmembers on board? Were they drunk or on drugs, or what? Thes are the kinds of questions the investigators will be asking.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Shedding Light on Queen of the North Oil Spill

An article in Saturday's Globe and Mail penned by Jonathan Woodward and Petti Fong sheds a bit more light on the environmental aspects of the Queen of the North oil spill off Gil Island on BC's central coast.

According to the story, it now appears that two mini-subs will descend this afternoon to the site of the wreck on the bottom of the seabed. One of the tasks of these manned submersibles will be, according to a BC Ferries representative, to "locate the hull breaches through which diesel fuel is leaking into Wright Sound...". Officials still do not know how much of the ship's 220,000 lites of No. 2 diesel, 20,000 litres of light oil, along with 220 litres of hydraulic oil, has leaked from the two fuel tanks on board.

Woodward and Fong also report that BC Ferries is "...examining options to plug the leaks or to pump out the remaining fuel", according to Phil Nuytten, designer of the mini-subs.

It is now being reported that because the weather was calmer in Wright Sound on Friday than the day before, response crews succeeded in looping 330 metres of containment boom around the point where the spilled fuel was reaching the surface. It appears the ship went down in area off of Gil Island's Juan Point. A propos, on CTV NewsNet last night, there was an aerial shot of deflective boom that had been deployed across what looked like the mouth of an inlet that was perhaps 300 metres wide. Encouragingly, the boom appeared to be holding.

Gettting back to the latest 'Slop and Pail" piece, Nick Russo of Environment Canada is cited in the latest Globe as saying that the "choppy waves" of Friday's storm evaporated much of the diesel on the surface, and that "...what remains is an incredibly thin film".

We are now hearing that "(s)ome fuel made it to fragile clam beds, but they would survive", according to Russo. This is the first time we have heard that sensitive resources have been impacted in any way, and it is not terribly reassuring, as diesel fuel, while considered very light, is also very toxic.

As for the latest marine weather forecast for the area of Douglas Channel, Environment Canada is calling for moderate to strong east to southeast winds. However, late today westerly winds are expected to move on to the central coast. Winds will be light, rising to southerly inflow 15 knots this morning, and then easing to variable 5 to 15 knots this evening. There is expected to be variable cloud, and shower activity. The outlook for the next 24 hours is for light to moderate southerly inflow winds.

All in all, then, the prospects look fairly promising for the response effort today, as well as for the launch of Nuytco Research Limited's two Deepworker mini-subs.

Readers are encouraged to let me know if they have any information to add to this Saturday morning SitRep. In any case, I shall keep you posted as matters unfold. Bonne journee, en tout cas!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Oil Continues to Flow from Queen of the North Wreck

Steve Mertl of Canadian Press has written an article on the Queen of the North ferry incident entitled "First view of sunken ferry could come Saturday afternoon, sub operator says". The article includes important information concerning the oil spill caused by the wreck. Steve quotes Phil Nuytten of Nuytco Research Limited as saying that a one-person submersible could be sent down to the wreck as early as Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, CTV Newsnet showed two Nuytco mini-subs loaded onto a trailer bed in North Vancouver, ready to head for the dive site several hundred miles to the north.

Among other things, Nuytco's Deepworker 2000 will look for the source of the spill that continues to leak from the sunken hulk. Also on CTV NewsNet, Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for BC Ferries, explained that the mini-sub will try to find out if the vessel's fuel tanks have been punctured, if oil is indeed leaking out, and whether the leak can be plugged.

Getting back to the Canadian Press article by Steve Mertl, finding the source of the leak is, understandably, a high priority for the BC Environment Ministry. Meanwhile, Andy Ackerman, who is refered to in the article as an "Incident Commander" is quoted as saying that the ship's diesel fuel continues to well up from the vessel "on a constant basis". We are also told that technicians are attempting to calculate the rate at which the oil is escaping, in the hopes of determining if it is slowing down ( or, I might add, speeding up, or even staying the same!).

At the surface and in the surrounding waters, booms have been deployed in an effort to contain "the sheen of diesel spreading from the wreck site". According to Ackerman, calmer weather has permitted some success in deploying the booms. ( He doesn't say, however, whether they've had any luck actually removing the oil from the surface with skimmers. Light, diesel oil tends to be problematic in this regard ). Ackerman adds that the combination of sun and wind have tended to "break down the spill".

As for what's happening at the shoreline, a SCAT ( short for Shoreline Cleanup Assesment Team ) has turned its attention to protecting sensitive areas and resources, including shellfish beds. Steve reports that a member of the Gitk'a'ta First Nation from nearby Hartley Bay is assisting the SCAT team.

So, this is one of the best progress reports we have had so far on the spilll response operation. On the one hand, the fact that oil is still reaching the surface is bad news for the environment. On the other hand, the fact that a manned submersible could actually reach the wreck site within eighteen hours of the vessel's sinking is a positive development, especially if the source ( or sources ) of the leak can be identified. The marine weather outlok for Saturday calls for showers and light to moderate southerly inflow winds, which bodes fairly well for the response and dive operation tomorrow.

This blog will try to keep you posted as events unfold. I know that some readers are relying on its postings as virtually the only source of information on the environmental aspects of this shipping disaster. For this reason, I shall try to be as timely, accurate and thorough as possible in summarising developments. Do let me know if you have anything to add to the narrative. I am particularly interested in spill trajectory analysis, as well as the thickness of the spill, and anything to do with currents.

Digest of News on Queen of the North Oil Spill

Matthew Ramsey and Ethan Baron report in an article in Friday's Vancouver Province entitled "Questions about ferry continue to grow" that two Deepworker 2000 submersibles owned by Nuytco Research Limited of North Vancouver, BC are expected to descend the 370 metres to the site of the wreck of the Queen of the North ferry tomorrow, Saturday. Phil Nuyten, famed founder of the company and developer of the mini-subs, says he expects his two divers on the one-person subs to find the wreck in four pieces on the bottom. The mini-subs are expected to shine their powerful spotlights on the wreckage.

Meanwhile, in an anonymous article on the Canoe web site entitled "Sinking likely to affect communities", David Hahn, President of BC Ferries is quoted as saying "We'll get a better sense of the state of the sea bottom, state of the ship, besides doing the pollution issue". Chief Robert Hill of the Gitk'a'ata Hartley Bay band, is reported to be concerned about the impact of the spill on his community. He is worried that the oil will damage marine resources upon which his people rely.

For its part, Friday's Globe and Mail has a detailed account of the environmental aspects of the sinking. Jonathan Woodward, in an article entitled "Workers race to clean up oil leaking from wreckage", writes that oil continues to bubble to the surface and spread out up to five kilometres from the site of the sinking. So far, though, the slick has apparently not hit the coast. Cleanup crews are trying to protect three sensitive beaches, but bad weather is not allowing booming on the water. The good news is that high winds are keeping the oil in the middle of Wright Sound, according to Wright. Within the five kilometre radius of oil around the site where the ship went down, "long ribbons of fuel are arranged in windrows", covering about ten percent of the area. Mr. Woodward points out that although diesel fuel evaporates quicker than other oil, it is more toxic to wildlife in the short term because it gets absorbed in the bloodstream. Meanwhile, not unexpectedly, the Living Oceans Society is reported here and elsewhere as criticising the slow environmental response to the spill.

Lastly, Larry Pynn, an oil spill veteran reporer from the 'good old days' of the Nestucca barge spill of December 1988, has a piece in Friday's Vancouver Sun entitled "Fuel slick spreads 5 km but no damage so far". Larry claims the slick is moving in a southerly direction, driven by 20 to 30 knot winds coming out of Douglas Channel. Clam and mussel beds are being protected on shore. A Burrard Clean barge is on scene, as is the CCG North Rock. Daily helicopter flights are reportedly tracking the slick and guiding the response effort. It is worth pointing out that BC Ferries and their contracted response organisation, Burrard Clean, are still leading the cleanup operation, with the Canadian Coast Guard acting in a monitoring capacity, according to Don Rodden, a Coast Guard spill response spokesperson. Rodden is quoted by Pynn as saying that he's satisfied with BC Ferries' effort so far.

The last point that I, as an oil spill expert myself, would add, is that the current marine weather forecast for Douglas Channel calls for southerly inflow winds of 10 to 15 knots this morning, becoming light this afternoon. Under conditions such as these, response vessels should be able to deploy containment boom and use skimmers to collect oil off the surface, although the type of oil involved is not terribly conducive to skimming activity. The prototype marine oil spill software my company, Worldocean Consulting Ltd, and another company are developing, indicates that burning the oil on the ocean would not be a viable response option. Application of dispersants is, however, within the realm of possibility. Some commercially available dispersants have been approved for sale in Canada; but, their application on an actual spill has thus far never been approved. Maybe the Queen of the North spill will be a first, although the slick may be a little too close to shore for comfort for dispersant use.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

BC Oil Spill Sitrep, Courtesy of Worldocean Consulting Ltd

BC Environment Minister Barry Penner briefed reporters on the response to the Queen of the North spill earlier today. He was heard on CBC Vancouver radio news to say that aerial surveillance of the spill scene by the response partners was continuing. Containment booms were being deployed, although the light diesel oil was proving difficult to recover. He also said that the slick was abating, that the rate at which oil was spilling out of the wreck was slowing, and that so far there was no evidence of dead birds or other wildlife.

The Queen of the North Oil Spill: the Initial 40 Hours

A day and a half after the sinking of BC Ferries' Queen of the North ferry, the oil spill cleanup effort continues. This blog entry tries to piece together what we know and don't know about the incident, based on available information. It will focus on efforts to prevent oil from escaping from the ship, to clean up any oil that does escape, and to prevent environmental damage.

The Queen of the North sank off of Gil Island in Wright Sound, 135 kms south of Prince Rupert, near the community of Hartley Bay on the northern B. C. coast, at approximately 08:43Z on Wednesday, 22 March, 2006. The Queen of the North is a 125 metre, 8806 tonne vessel; it was built in Germany in 1969, and had a draw of 4.9 metres. It was one of the larger vessels in BC Ferries' thirty-five vessel fleet. It is thought to have struck a rock and started to list badly an hour before sinking, in foul weather ( 35 knot winds, 2 metre waves ). Fortunately, with the help of the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfred Laurier and a fishing boat, the Lone Star, a total of 99 passengers and crew were rescued. However, two additional passengers are missing, and presumed to have perished with the ship.

The vessel is submerged, and so there is an environmental issue here. The area is rich in terms of biological diversity, and with the severe weather that can be experienced in the region at this time of year, even a relatively small slick could spread rapidly.

The response partners, consisting of Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada and other branches of government, plus Burrard Clean from the private sector, are engaged in aerial and sea-based monitoring and surveillance of the area around the wreck as we speak, to look for evidence of oil slicks on the sea surface as well as in the water column. The Queen of the North had 220,000 litres of No. 2 diesel fuel on board, plus 23,000 litres of lubricating oil. There were also a total of sixteen vehicles on board, which could be leaking gasoline and engine oil.

Diesel fuel is a lighter type of oil. Paul Ross, Environment Canada's oil spill expert on the scene, is quoted in Thursday's Vancouver Sun as saying that the ferry's fuel evaporates faster than bunker fuel oil, losing as it does 40% of its volume within the first 48 hours. On the other hand, diesel is more toxic than bunker. Ross is also quoted as saying that the rough seas predicted for the area will help disperse the oil. Strong to gale force winds are predicted for the area overnight Thursday and into Friday morning.

On Wednesday afternoon CBC Newsworld showed video shot from a plane of what definitely looked like a rainbow sheen of oil in the area. An RCMP officer being interviewed on the program via telephone claimed that the slick was 8 sq. kms in size, and that it was spreading. Don Rodden, Coast Guard's oil spill spokesperson on the west coast, mentioned in one news report that the oil had formed into windrows, and was probably evaporating rapidly. BC Environment Minister Barry Penner said Thursday that the slick appears to be breaking up. Nonetheless, the authorities are considering deploying protective booms along the coast, to prevent any leaked oil from reaching sensitive shoreline and resources. The First Nations people of Hartley Bay will no doubt be concerned for their traditional eulachon fishery. The herring spawn usually occurs around this time of year as well. The authorities could well be considering local shellfish closings at this time. For the longer-term, potential interference of the oil with salmon runs would also be an area of concern. So far no dead seabirds or other wildlife have been reported.

One of the items to be determined is whether the vessel's fuel tanks were punctured when she ran aground or as she hit the bottom. Another question would be: was this an instantaneous release of oil, or is oil continuing to flow from the hulk lying on the bottom of the ocean? Presumably, at the first opportunity divers will go down with underwater cameras or a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and conduct a survey as to the extent of the damage and the environmental risk. Eventually, all oil on board may have to be removed, to avoid the potential for leaks due to corrosion.

The wreck is apparently in 1200 feet of water; at that depth, the surrounding water may be cold enough to gel the oil such that it won't flow easily. On the other hand, if it is released from the tanks, it could float to the surface in the form of tar balls. Undoubtedly the oil spill response experts on the scene are examining these and other scenarios as we speak.

Gil Island's coordinates are Lat 53°12'00", Long 129°13'59". It is home to a whale research station called Cetacealab ( The co-director of Cetacealab, Hermann Meuter, reports that the arrival of the first northern orcas of the season is approaching; they come to the area to feed on salmon.