No spills, injuries after fuel tanker runs aground in Northwest Passage

The "Nanny"

A fuel tanker carrying nine million litres of fuel has run aground near the Nunavut community of Gjoa Haven in the Northwest Passage.

The Nanny — a modern, double-hulled tanker — hit the unmarked shoal in the Simpson Strait southwest of the community on Monday while on a voyage refuelling local communities, reports the Coast Guard.

“She´s just caught up on a sand bar, that´s all,” said Dennis White of vessel owner Coastal Shipping of St. John´s, Newfoundland.

There were no injuries or spills resulting from the grounding. The Coast Guard says the vessel is not damaged.

“We have no report of pollution, that´s been verified by overflight,” said Larry Trigatti, supervisor of environmental response for the Coast Guard.

“We´re confident there is no significant damage to the vessel. The crew´s safe.

“Right now we´re in a monitoring situation to make sure the situation remains stable.”

The Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen, which was anchored near Gjoa Haven, arrived on site late Thursday afternoon. A variety of government agencies are also responding to the accident.

A Transport Canada plane with pollution-sensing equipment flew over the site Monday. A helicopter from the Larsen did the same Tuesday.

White said another Coastal Shipping vessel, also in the Arctic, is on its way to help refloat its sister ship. He said the second ship should arrive in a few days.

It´s the third such incident in Arctic waters this summer.

Another fuel tanker ran aground off Pangnirtung, Nunavut, earlier this month as it attempted to offload fuel to the community.

And last week, more than 100 passengers had to be airlifted from a cruise ship that ran aground on an unmarked rock near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

“So far, we´ve been lucky,” said Michael Byers, an international law professor and Arctic policy expert.

“Although we´ve had ships ground themselves, we have yet to have that major spill.”

Cleanup capacity in the area is limited to what the Larsen carries on board and a kit in Gjoa Haven intended primarily to sop up smaller harbour spills.

As well, Byers points out that less than 10 per cent of Canadian Arctic waters have modern charts.

Although the Northwest Passage won´t become a northern Panama Canal anytime soon, commercial shipping is growing quickly.

In 2007, only one shipper sent vessels into the passage now there are four. Last season, there were more solely commercial vessels in the Passage than there were ships of all kinds just a few years previously.

“Our search and rescue and oil cleanup capability is based on the shipping activity as it was a couple decades ago,” said Byers. “With this increase in traffic, the risks are significantly greater.”

Byers suggested the federal government increase its effort to map the sea floor in the Arctic. He suggested commercial vessels could even be used, with tankers and cruise ships carrying a small sonar mapping unit to provide modern data.

“Shipping is increasing at an almost exponential rate in the Arctic,” Byers said.



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