CANADA | Northwest Passage tanker could be stuck for days

CBC News | 2010/09/03

It could take days, even a week, before a fuel tanker carrying 9.5 million litres of diesel gets dislodged from a sandbar in the Northwest Passage.

The Merchant Vessel Nanny slammed into the uncharted sandbar Wednesday in Simpson Strait, about 50 kilometres southwest of Gjoa Haven in western Nunavut.

The tanker, owned by Newfoundland-based Woodward’s Oil Ltd., was delivering annual diesel shipments to remote Arctic communities. It was en route to Taloyoak, another Nunavut community, when it became stuck in the strait.

The tanker’s crew is safe and no fuel has spilled from the intact double-hulled ship to date. Still, the Canadian Coast Guard ship Henry Larsen has anchored itself within kilometres of the MV Nanny, watching for any potential leaks.

“We’re continuing to monitor and be ready for any required intervention, in case there would be any environmental pollution,” Larry Green, a technical services director with the coast guard, told CBC News on Friday.

2nd tanker needed

Woodward’s Oil has been working with Transport Canada on a plan to get the tanker dislodged. The company is a major oil supplier to Nunavut communities.

Nunavut government officials say under that plan, which could take days to execute, the company will have to bring a second tanker into the Northwest Passage.

The second tanker will then sidle up to the MV Nanny and siphon diesel out until the beached ship becomes light enough to float again.

The length of time it could take to remove the MV Nanny from the sandbar will likely create delays for a handful of Nunavut communities that rely on diesel fuel to generate electricity through the winter.

The MV Nanny is the third ship in the past month to run aground in Canada’s Arctic waters.

The MV Clipper Adventurer, a cruise ship, ran aground on Aug. 27 on an uncharted rock between Port Epworth and Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

None of the 128 passengers aboard the cruise ship was injured, but they were trapped in the vessel for two days before a coast guard icebreaker arrived and took them to Kugluktuk.

Marine charts narrow area

On Aug. 8, another tanker owned by Woodward’s Oil ran aground in a harbour near Pangnirtung, a community on southern Baffin Island, during low tide.

As with the MV Nanny, that tanker spilled no fuel. It was dislodged in high tide hours later.

At least one major player in the Arctic shipping industry, Quebec-based Desgagnés Transarctik Inc., says the recent spate of problems may have something to do with how narrowly Arctic areas are currently charted.

“The charts are reliable. The problem is that you have to be able to stay within [them]; it’s very narrow,” said Waguih Rayes, the general manager of the company’s Arctic division.

“The charts are not complete in a sense that if you are not able to stay within, for whatever reason, you might find yourself very easily in uncharted waters.”

Rayes said improving charts in the Northwest Passage has to be a priority, as more marine vessels begin to ply the tricky maze of islands, shoals and channels that make up the increasingly ice-free waterway.

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