Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Will the Queen of the North Wreck Be Raised?

One year after the Queen of the North ferry sank off Gil Island in Wright Sound, one of the options that is perhaps being considered for dealing with the diesel fuel, lubricants and other oil products on board, is to raise the entire vessel from the seabed 400 metres beneath the surface. Blowing the wreck up has also been mentioned by one source, perhaps in jest.
One of the problems with even considering recovering the oil down there is that the authorities don't know how much there is left in the fuel tanks. A lot of the 200,000 litres of diesel fuel on board may, for instance, have been released more or less immediately upon impact with the ocean bottom. That would account for the extensive, rainbow-coloured sheen that was observed on the surface over the course of the first few days after the disaster, and which spread to nearby Fin Island and other adjacent locales. In addition, an unknown quantity of diesel fuel has been slowly but surely coming to the surface, as this observer noticed on September 21, 2006 when he visited the site off Gil Island. At the present time, the leaking fuel is probably no worse that what one finds at your average marina anywhere along the BC coast; in other words, a minor inconvenience, unless of course you have absolute zero tolerance for such things, in which case you would demand that everything be done to stop the leak.
Contrary to what has been reported on radio and TV, though, although half the wreck is ensconced in mud or silt, it could, apparently, be raised, if money is no object, which appears to be the case. On the other hand, there seem to be two complicating factors: two passengers are thought to have gone down with the ship, and there is a fear that the superstructure may not survive an attempt to bring it to the surface. Thus, the risk is that in the process of raising the Queen of North an even greater spill could be triggered. This no one would want. This risk must be raised against another risk - that associated with leaving the oil on board, to gradually leak out, or possibly create another environmental emergency at some point down the road.
In short, the responsible parties will at some point have to decide whether the risk of leaving the oil on board the wreck at the bottom of the sea, presumably to eventually discharge all of its remaining contents, outweighs the risk of either siphoning the fuel oil off or retrieving the wreck. BTW, what would you do, in your capacity as an armchair salvage expert? Send us your comments, and don't turn that dial: we shall keep you posted as events unfold.