Tugboat fuel recovery to start this week

The Nadro Marine Services tugboat Seahound, shown here at the Cornwall Harbour on July 5, 2015, will be leading the de-fueling operation of the sunken tugboat Lac Manitoba. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Crews could be removing thousands of liters of diesel fuel from one of the sunken tugboats in the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall as early as Tuesday.

Before then, testing and maneuvering a tugboat and a fuel-recovery barge on the river – to make sure there isn’t a repeat of what happened to the Lac Manitoba and LCM 131 – should happen Monday.

A “few droplets of oil” found late last week were assessed as unrecoverable, according to J.J. Brickett, Superintendent, Coast Guard Environmental Response program. In the past week there has been no active sheening on the water, the Coast Guard said.

The two tugboats sunk June 22 while trying to maneuver a barge fitted with a crane, which was going to be used for north channel bridge demolition work.

The tugboat environmental response is being coordinated and monitored by the Canadian Coast Guard. The Lac Manitoba owners, Nadro Marine Services, are responsible for the salvaging operation.

The Canadian Coast Guard gave Cornwall Newswatch a tour of their operations Sunday at the Cornwall Harbour in preparation for this week’s operation.

Click on the photos below to open a gallery of images from the tour of the operations at the Cornwall Harbour.

Men were busy welding a giant winch on the barge as well as building and preparing the equipment.

“They are rigging the barge with tanks, pumps, absorbent (pads) and everything to be able to go there and pump out the diesel,” Coast Guard Environmental Response Division spokesman Martin Blouin explained.

Blouin said a certified response company – ECRC – will be deploying booms around the marina as well as wildlife-sensitive areas around the islands. ECRC will also have a specialized response vessel on standby to catch any spills during the de-fueling of the Lac Manitoba. The response vessel can catch oil and fuel in water up to four knots (7.4 kilometers an hour).

Blouin also demonstrated a hazing system for scaring away birds and wildlife should there be any sort of oil or diesel fuel spilled during the recovery exercise. The device, which looks like a small buoy, is dropped in the slick and makes loud noises.

Coast Guard employees also have hazing guns, which Blouin said can be more effective in a small channel like the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall’s waterfront. The guns don’t hurt the birds but make loud noises to shoo them away.

This hazing gun on the Coast Guard ship will be used to scare away birds and other wildlife should there be any spill during de-fueling operations for the Lac Manitoba. The gun does not hurt the birds, but only makes noise to scare them away. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)
This hazing gun on the Coast Guard ship will be used to scare away birds and other wildlife should there be any spill during de-fueling operations for the Lac Manitoba. The gun does not hurt the birds, but only makes noise to scare them away. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

There’s also a helicopter on standby. “We have a specialized observer, ready to do an overflight and keep track of the oil, and also direct the response. It’s easier to see the oil flow from the air, direct the vessel, collect the oil,” Blouin told Cornwall Newswatch.

As far as the fuel recovery operation, Blouin said a hole will be cut in the ship above the water line and the diesel will be pumped out in small quantities. The operation will mean multiple trips for the tugboat Seahound, a 1,000 horsepower vessel owned by Nadro Marine Services. It’s very similar in size and power to the Lac Manitoba.

Another Nadro Marine Services tug, the Molly M I, is also docked at the harbour.

Nearly 9,000 liters (1,979 imperial gallons) of diesel fuel as well as some oil is on the tug which is “stable” in about 15 feet (4.5 meters) of water.

“We have lots of time to make sure everything goes fine. Right now, they are still mobilizing equipment…it’s better to have everything in order before starting the operation,” Blouin said.

Once the fuel is recovered, Nadro Marine will be able to do the math and figure out what may be left on the Lac Manitoba before salvaging it, allow response crews to be ready for any potential spills.

When asked about public criticism of how long the operation is taking, Blouin explained that, while emergency services like police and firefighters are measured in minutes and hours, marine operations are measured in days and weeks. He said getting all the right equipment and manpower is the biggest challenge.

“It’s not the plan. It’s mobilizing the right-sized barge, mobilizing enough tugs, enough boats,” Blouin explained, “Making sure, rechecking all the calculations, making sure when you do an operation the buoyancy is stable so the boat won’t float and go away and making sure to look at the stability of the other vessel. Make sure everything won’t move and drift into one another,” he said.

The area is being patrolled daily by the Coast Guard, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne as well as pleasure craft in the area.

Blouin said the Lac Manitoba is their primary focus right now to minimize any environmental damage. The LCM 131, which has “very small quantities” of fuel and oil, is not being tackled at this time.

A precautionary “do not consume” water advisory from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is still in effect for Pilon, Hamilton, Calquohoun and Dickerson Islands.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit also issued a “do not consume” order Sunday for households along County Road 2 in South Glengarry (Glen Walter to South Lancaster), which draw their water from the river. (Update: It takes effect Tuesday July 7, 2015)

If you see any soiled wildlife you’re asked to call 519-583-1080 and report it. As of Sunday, the Canadian Coast Guard said there have been no calls to the hotline.

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