Oil cube lifted out of Robson Bight 'cleanly'
By Judith Lavoie
$2.5M salvage operation underway after barged tipped in August 2007
Observers on a barge in Robson Bight ecological reserve held their breath yesterday afternoon as a metal cube containing 1,400 litres of hydraulic oil was carefully pulled to the surface.
"There was a lot of anticipation when the cube finally broke the surface, but the crew were very calm and professional, which helped," said Randy Alexander, environmental protection manager for the Environment Ministry.
The two-metre-square container, with 72 pails of lube oil, had been sitting on the ocean floor since August 2007 when a barge tipped equipment into the famed wildlife area, where threatened northern resident killer whales feed and rub themselves on pebble beaches.
The 11 pieces of equipment belonged to Ted LeRoy Trucking of Chemainus, which is charged with numerous pollution violations. The company declared bankruptcy last year.
The $2.5-million operation to remove the oil cube and a fully loaded fuel truck from 350 metres of water is being conducted by Mammoet Salvage B.V., a company based in the Netherlands, on behalf of the province and federal government.
A remotely operated underwater vehicle was first sent into the water, then a crane dropped down hooks and chains, which were attached to the container by the underwater vehicle before it was slowly pulled to the surface.
Initially, the company planned to cover the cube with a special jacket to catch any spills, but with debris on the ocean floor, it was feared cables could be snagged.
The operation went extremely smoothly, said Paul Spong, director of whale research station OrcaLab, one of the many environmental groups pushing government to remove the equipment.
"It came out of the water cleanly. There was a tiny bit of residual oil, but they had a boom around the site and I would say there was no impact on the environment."
After the accident, the federal government initially said there was no point sending down a remotely operated vehicle as fuel tanks would have imploded as they sank.
In response, environmental groups planned their own underwater survey, and government had a change of heart.
An inspection showed intact tanks, with an estimated 10,000 litres of fuel, sitting on the ocean floor.
After a delay of almost two years, the operation was planned for a season when whales were unlikely to be in the area, although in recent weeks, several groups of transient orcas have spent time in Robson Bight.
However, yesterday they all stayed away, said Spong, who is keeping his fingers crossed they will not venture into the area as the fuel truck is lifted.
Late yesterday afternoon, the barge was manoeuvered into position over the fuel truck. Weather will decide whether it is lifted today or tomorrow.
The truck will be covered with metal casings before being lifted to protect against spills.
The government hopes to recoup some of the operation's cost from Ted LeRoy Trucking .
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times ColonistPosted by Arthur Caldicott on 17 May 2009