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Coast guard to try freeing grounded tanker off Cape Breton shoreline

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the owners of the Arca 1 are co-operating fully with Canadian officials and are taking financial responsibility for its removal.
Grounded tanker
The Arca 1 fuel tanker grounded about 100 metres off the Cape Breton shoreline at Little Pond on Sunday. Officials say it was only carrying seawater as ballast, and diesel for its engines, but that all fuel tanks appear to be intact. (TOM AYERS / Local Xpress)

SYDNEY — The Canadian Coast Guard will attempt to free a grounded fuel tanker off Cape Breton's shoreline on Tuesday morning after determining that the vessel is intact and is not a risk for pollution.

Dominic LeBlanc, federal minister of fisheries and oceans and the coast guard, flew over the vessel on Monday and got a briefing at the incident command centre in the coast guard offices in Westmount, across the harbour from Sydney.

Afterwards, he told Local Xpress the ship Arca 1 was not carrying any fuel in its cargo tanks and the tanks holding diesel for its engines appear to be undamaged.

It ran aground in the Atlantic Ocean just outside Sydney Harbour on Sunday morning after losing power in a storm. Six crew members were safely lifted off the vessel by search and rescue technicians from CFB Greenwood.

"The good news is, with respect to this particular incident, as of now there is no pollution risk to the marine ecosystem," said LeBlanc.

"The hull of the vessel has not been breached and plans are made for what we hope will be a successful and safe removal of it (Tuesday)."

LeBlanc said the Arca 1 is owned by a Mexican company and was carrying only seawater as ballast in its cargo tanks. The ship was on its way from Montreal to North Sydney for repairs, and that is where it will be taken once it is lifted off the bottom at 6:30 a.m., he said.

In the meantime, a coast guard surveillance plane has been keeping an eye on the Arca 1, flying long circles over the coastline to monitor the ship for any leakage or damage.

"There was no oil or fuel in the cargo holds of the vessel and there are 16 tonnes of diesel fuel in the fuel tanks for the propulsion systems, for the engines, but as I said those have not yet been breached and we believe that the vessel can be successfully removed without them being breached.

"The Transportation Safety Board is already on site, as is Transport Canada ... and they will be conducting fairly robust investigations, which will be made public when the conclusions are in."

LeBlanc said the investigations will include looking at the cause of the incident as well as whether federal laws and regulations were followed, and make recommendations on how to prevent incidents like this in the future.

It's too soon to say whether the ship should have been allowed to head out into the ocean or whether it had all the permits necessary, he said.

And while it's understandable that people are making comparisons to the MV Miner, which was on its way to an international scrapyard when it grounded off Cape Breton five years ago and was abandoned, the Arca 1 situation is different, said LeBlanc.

The province paid more than $12 million to have the MV Miner removed from Scatarie Island and to restore the shoreline, and has been trying to recover the money from the federal government after the owners walked away.

The federal government also came under fire for allowing the MV Miner to be towed through Canadian waters with insufficient insurance or bonding to cover the potential cost of recovery and cleanup.

"I understand the concern that taxpayers have about the cost of these kind of incidents," LeBlanc said. "But the real challenge is to make those that are responsible for incidents like that accountable.

"With respect to this particular vessel now, it's a Mexican company that owns the vessel and the owners have up to now been very co-operative ... and they are taking responsibility, both operationally but also in terms of cost.

"With respect to the current circumstance, Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board will be preparing, in their investigation, detailed answers to those questions around whether the vessel should safely have been able to navigate to North Sydney ... but in fairness I think we need to wait for the reports to be concluded.

"And if procedures were not followed and if they did something that was knowingly unsafe and that they were prohibited from doing, then obviously they will be held accountable.

"There will be consequences for that, but the way to get there is to have an independent, thorough investigation done, and that's what started yesterday."

LeBlanc said he and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau have been working on new rules and regulations to address those concerns, and the Trudeau government has committed $1.5 billion in new money that will help the coast guard respond to stranded vessels and other negative impacts on the marine environment.

Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan, who flew over the Arca 1 with LeBlanc on Monday, said provincial officials are helping in any way they can, but the ocean is a federal responsibility.

"From a provincial perspective, the Department of Transportation, Environment and Natural Resources would be monitoring the situation and working with their federal counterparts to ensure that anything we could do, we would be there, but at this point this is entirely under the federal jurisdiction," he said.

"It certainly looks as though all the procedures and the measures that are in place to address these things when they happen have been taking place, and we certainly look forward to and anticipate a clean removal (Tuesday) morning at daybreak, and we'll go from there."


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