The Canadian Coast Guard says it will undertake “a significant environmental response operation” because more oil is leaking from the sunken Second World War United States Army Transport vessel, the Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski.
The Coast Guard says that an operation known as “hot tapping” will be used to remove the oil from the Zalinski. Hot tapping was used recently to remove fuel from the sunken cruise liner Costa Concordia off Italy and the container ship Rena which broke up off New Zealand.
The Coast Guard says:
Hot tapping is a well-known and frequently used method of removing oil from the tanks of stricken vessels. Holes are carefully drilled into the side of the vessel to access fuel-tanks and then hot steam is pumped into the tanks. The steam increases the temperature of the oil and enables it to flow more easily. The oil is then pumped to the surface for safe disposal.
The procedure can be done with holes of very small sizes up to very large diameters. Hot tapping is used in both marine and land-based scenarios.
The Canadian Coast Guard says it “has engaged the Gitga’at First Nation and the Province of British Columbia to participate in the operation and maintain a presence at the wreck site” and will keep the Gitga’at First Nation informed of what is going on:
The Coast Guard recognizes that given their proximity to the Zalinski site and their interest in the oil recovery operation, the Gitga’at need to be informed on the progress of the operation and that they have important local knowledge and skill that will be beneficial to the operation.
The Coast Guard says that environmental monitoring in January and March of 2013, discovered “further upwelling” of oil and added new patches to the sunken vessel.
The Coast Guard says: “Although the patches from 2012 and 2013 remain in place, early patches have begun to leak and the Canadian Coast Guard has determined that the structural integrity of the vessel is deteriorating.”
The USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski was built in 1919 and served as a United States Army Transport vessel during the Second World War. It ran aground during a storm and sank in 1946 in the Grenville Channel about 100 kilometres south of Prince Rupert.
According to a Coast Guard News release, the wreck was “undetected” until the fall of 2003 in 34 metres of water near an underwater cliff about 20 metres from shore.
In September 2003, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Maple reported pollution in the Grenville Channel to the Canadian Coast Guard.
The CCGS Tanu investigated the source of the pollution and collected oil samples, but, the news release says, the vessel remained elusive and undetected.
A month later, more oil pollution was spotted so the Canadian Coast Guard used a remotely operated underwater vehicle which located the Zalinski.
New pollution was reported in the channel in October 2003 by a commercial airline pilot and at this time the Coast Guard suspected that the source of the upwelling of oil was an old wreck.
In 2003 and 2004, the Canadian Coast Guard contracted divers to patch the vessel to prevent the leak of oil.
The Coast Guard says it regularly monitored the site with the help of Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program. Local First Nations Groups also monitored the wreck site.
More oil was spotted in April 2012, and at that time, contract divers patched the Zalinski with an epoxy that hardens underwater.
The Coast Guard says new dive footage has shown that metal rivets that hold the hull’s plates are corroding and that the hull is buckling.
as the state of the vessel deteriorates, the Coast Guard has determined that to prevent any harm to the environment, a significant operation should be undertaken to remove the oil from the vessel. The Canadian Coast Guard will be the on-scene commander for the duration of the operation, directing the recovery and the removal of marine pollutants from the vessel and actively monitoring the operation.
The Canadian Coast Guard has also engaged the province of British Columbia and local First Nations groups to solicit their feedback on the operation. On July 26, 2013, Public Works and Government Services Canada posted two requests for proposal seeking a third-party to conduct the oil removal operation and oil spill response services to assist in the case that any oil leaks from the vessel as the operation progresses.
It is expected that the operation will begin in September 2013 and will conclude in December 2013. The Coast Guard says because the Grenville Channel is so narrow, some restrictions on vessel traffic in the Inland Passage will be needed.
The Grenville Channel is a narrow fjord-like waterway with significant tidal fluctuations and currents up to three knots. The shoreline is rocky and steep with little shoreline vegetation.
The Grenville Channel sees commercial fishing vessels, ferries, cruise ships, and pleasure craft transiting its waters on a regular basis, with increased frequency in the summer months. These waters, naturally shielded from stronger offshore winds and weather conditions, are the preferred route of many cruise ships.
The more mild sailing conditions and the stunning natural beauty of the area make the Grenville channel one of the scenic highlights of many marine travellers on Canada’s West Coast.