The Heiltsuk First Nation says a tug boat has sunk off the coast of Bella Bella this morning, after the fuel barge it was pushing ran aground.
The fuel barge itself was empty, but the tug had 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board – with three compromised fuel tanks.
“Though we are thankful that the barge was empty, we are gravely concerned about the potential ramifications of the fuel spill from the tug. Our Gitga’at neighbours to the north are still unable to harvest clams and other seafoods ten years after the sinking of the Queen of the North. This spill area is in one of our primary breadbaskets, and we know that diesel is extremely difficult to recover,” stated Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett
The First Nation says the spill could devastate an area where 25 important species are harvested, including manila clam beds that provide an income to the community of approximately $150,000 per year.
The Coast Guard is on the scene and has rescued the crew of the barge and tug, but the First Nation called the initial spill response “totally inadequate”
“The first responding vessels were not equipped to deal with a spill, and had to return to town to gather more gear. The Heiltsuk are providing our own equipment because what responders have been able to provide so far is insufficient.”
The tug and barge are owned by the American company Kirby Offshore Marine, who has deployed vessels from Prince Rupert to help in the clean up.