[Update] Russian Cargo Ship Adrift Again off Canada

By Wendy Laursen 10-19-2014 06:37:00

After being towed about 20 miles from shore, the Russian cargo ship foundering off British Columbia, Canada, was again set adrift over the weekend after tow lines parted, but latest reports say the vessel is under tow now and the heavy seas have subsided. 

The Canadian Forces' joint rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria, British Columbia, says the ocean-going tug Barbara Foss now has a secure line attached to the ship. The vessel's owners are having it towed to Prince Rupert.

The rescue-coordination said the Russian carrier Simushir lost power late Thursday night off Haida Gwaii en route to Russia.

The Simushir left the Port of Everett last Saturday with a cargo of mining equipment and is carrying around 400 tons of bunker and 50 tons of diesel. The cargo includes chemicals that could pose an environmental concern if a spill occurred.

According to marine casualty expert, Ken Potter, managing director of Veritas Marine, the ship’s position raises an interesting question about its voyage plan. “Such a route would not normally take it close to Haida Gwai where it was in danger of running aground. While there are few details available, I suspect that it ran into trouble further offshore and drifted while the crew attempted repairs. It is not uncommon for vessels to break down at sea, and I suspect, and I emphasize suspect, that they did not report their situation until they had actually drifted closer to land.   

“That said, the closest available tugs are in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. That there was a Canadian Coast Guard available was a matter of happenstance as there are no vessels standing by on this stretch of coast to respond.”

The incident has been used to raise concerns about what could happen if an oil tanker were involved in such an incident. “The media are making a great deal regarding the amount of fuel on board, and making a linkage to potential oil tanker traffic,” says Potter. “Such tanker traffic however does not pass this close to Haida Gwai. Again, it would be interesting to know exactly when and where the ship became disabled in comparison to when they called for help.”

The fear of oil spills is especially strong in British Columbia where residents remember Alaska's 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.