Salvage firm now plans to tow tanker grounded off Nova Scotia Tuesday night

The Canadian Press
Published on January 10, 2017

The Arca 1 is shown in a handout photo after it ran aground off the coast of Nova Scotia, Sunday, Jan.8, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Department of Fisheries and Oceans MANDATORY CREDIT

SYDNEY, N.S. — A salvage team is now planning to attempt to pull a grounded tanker from a sandy bottom off Cape Breton at high tide Tuesday evening.

The Arca 1 ran aground just north of Sydney Mines on Sunday after losing engine power, and its six-member crew was rescued later that day. The vessel is carrying 15 tonnes of fuel for its engines.

Olous Boag, the vice president of McKeil Marine Ltd., said in an interview Tuesday that the salvage team had considered beginning during the early morning high tide, but decided to delay as they completed assessments on how the tow would occur.

"The forecast is still good and the plan is to make to attempt the tow on the next tide," he said. The next high tide was at about 7:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, the coast guard said.

Boag said his firm will use its salvage tug Tim McKeil along with a smaller tug, the Kaliutik, to attempt to tow the vessel to nearby Sydney harbour. 

He added that while he's optimistic the vessel can be towed off, "it may not come at the first try," and if necessary the salvage firm would resume efforts on Wednesday morning.

The salvage team determined Monday night the vessel's flat bottom wasn't damaged.

"The good news is ... there's no breaches in the hull. Watertight integrity is good," said Boag.

He added that the key challenge is to take the vessel off the bottom while the winds are blowing offshore. 

Keith Laidlaw, a senior response officer with the Canadian Coast Guard, said weather conditions were favourable for a successful tow Tuesday evening, as waters were expected to remain calm.

"Once it is taken off the beach, we will escort it into Sydney harbour and ensure there is no pollution coming from the vessel and that it is properly secured," said Laidlaw during a technical briefing Tuesday afternoon, adding that coast guard conservation protection vessels will be monitoring the tow.

"But we do not rush these things. As you can understand, it's a very technical process. It's not just a matter of hooking a line onto the vessel and towing it off. We're not in a hurry."

Laidlaw said ballast water on the ship would be pumped off to increase the vessel's buoyancy.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who is responsible for the coast guard, said Monday that "appropriate preventive measures" would be used to prevent environmental damage, but officials clarified Tuesday that booms were not being used because they would interfere with tow operations.

The Montreal-based tanker was en route to Mexico carrying no cargo when it experienced mechanical difficulties. 

Petroil Marine SA, the Mexican company that owns the ship, is responsible for the costs of removing the tanker.

— By Michael Tutton and Aly Thomson in Halifax.

The Canadian Press