The Gitga’at First Nation at Hartley Bay report that a large oil slick has been spotted in Grenville Channel near Hartley Bay. It is believed that the oil is coming from the USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in 1946 with 700 tonnes of bunker fuel on board.
A news release from the Gitga’at says the oil spill is between between two and five miles (four to eight kilometres) long and 200 feet wide (70 metres) inside the Grenville Channel.
A Canadian Coast Guard vessel from Prince Rupert is expected in the area sometime this afternoon.
The Gitga’at are sending their own Guardians to take samples and have chartered a plane to take aerial photos of the spill, the release says.
“If this spill is as big as the pilots are reporting, then we’re looking at serious environmental impacts, including threats to our traditional shellfish harvesting areas,” says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at Nation. “We need an immediate and full clean-up response from the federal government ASAP.”
The USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski was carrying Bunker C when it sank. The First Nation says the Canadian government has been saying it would remove the oil and munitions from the ship since 2006, but with no results.
“Right now we’re focused on getting a handle on the size of the spill and the clean-up that’s required,” says Clifton. “But this incident definitely raises questions about the federal government’s ability to guard against oil spills and to honour its clean-up obligations. As a result, our nation has serious concerns about any proposal to have tankers travel through our coastal waters, including the Enbridge proposal.”
The spill is just the latest in a series of spills of bunker oil and diesel coming from the Zalinski and the BC Ferry Queen of the North, which sank in 2006. Despite government assurances of clean-up, both wreckages continue to leak fuel, fouling the marine environment, and heightening the fear of future oil spills.
The Gitga’at depend on the ocean for 40 per cent of their traditional diet.
According to Wikipedia, the Zalinksi was enroute from Seattle to Whittier Island, Alaska, when it struck rocks at Pitt Island on Grenville Channel 0n September 26 1946, 55 miles (88 kilometres) south of Prince Rupert. The ship sank within twenty minutes, while her crew of 48 were rescued by the tug Sally N and the passenger steamer SS Catala. According to a report in The Vancouver Sun on September 30, 1946, at the time of her sinking she was transporting a cargo of at least twelve 500-pound (230 kg) bombs, large amounts of .30 and .50 caliber ammunition, at least 700 tonnes of bunker oil, and truck axles with army type tires.
Oil was first spotted leaking in Grenville Channel in 2003 and the wreck of the Zalinski was identified later that year by a remotely operated undersea vessel.
Hartley Bay is the entrance to Douglas Channel where tankers will go to Kitimat for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and three liquified natural gas projects.