Brig.-Gen. M.G. Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image

Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image

Last winter I found myself descending slowly down a black wall, my dive partner Tavish Campbell, somewhere off to my left is only recognized by the narrow beam of his dive light.    The depth gauge registered 100 feet so I figured I must have missed the shipwreck.  I kicked off into the water column and suddenly found myself face to face with a towering wall of steel; long lines of rivets disappeared into the dark.

I was staring at the shipwreck of the the 250 foot-long USAT Brigadier General M. G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in the Grenville channel north of Hartley Bay in 1946.

Just on the other side of the steel hull it is reported that 12- 500 pound aerial bombs and countless smaller munitions lay undisturbed.    Surprisingly, late on that wet and windy night so many years ago the ship rolled down the steep wall and landed on a very narrow ledge.  By all accounts it should have kept rolling to the bottom, another 250 feet.

Fast forward to today, and the Zalinski is back in the news with the Canadian Coast Guard planning to remove the 600 or so tonnes of bunker oil (unclear if they plan on removing the bombs) that lay entombed inside.

The media is reporting that this will help bolster the government’s claim that the Canadian Coast Guard’s oil spill response capability is “world class” and can handily deal with ever-increasing LNG and bitumen tanker proposals facing the Great Bear Rainforest.

But I don’t follow.

First off, the Coast Guard had 70 years to figure out how to clean up the Zalinski wreck, yet suddenly they are spending a reported $50 million (and probably substantially more) during the winter storm season?   The cleanup of the Zalinski is conveniently timed to coincide with the December decision by the National Energy Board on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal.

The other issue that raises eyebrows is Canada’s choice of hiring the Dutch company Mammoet to do the cleanup.  This seems to tell us more about Dutch capabilities than our own.

And what does the Zalinski have to do with modern Canadian oil spill clean up capabilities?   The ship is sitting in one hundred feet of water in the relatively calm and protected waters of Grenville Channel.  These are dream maritime conditions for an oil spill clean up by any standards on this coast.   If the ship had kept rolling on that late night so many years ago, more than likely the Coast Guard would have continued to ignore the problem similar to its ongoing response to the Queen of the North wreck.

The Grenville Channel does get strong current but it cannot be compared to the treacherous waters that the 1500 foot long, 2 million barrel capacity VLCC tankers that are proposed to ply our coast, just a few miles to the south, would have to face each day.

The best thing that this $50 million dollar cleanup will achieve is something that should have been done years ago and at the expense of the U.S. government (it was their ship that sank after all) yet somehow Canadians are supposed to feel comforted by our Coast Guard’s ability to conduct serious oil spill response and cleanup?  And that’s assuming they actually succeed in sucking the oil out of this wreck.

While the Canadian Coast Guard and their Dutch-for-hire spill recovery company fiddles around with the Zalinski, the real and more pressing issue of oil spill response capabilities continues to build with the onset of winter weather and the looming decision by the National Energy Board.

The waters just to the south of Grenville Channel have been listed by Environment Canada as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world with recorded waves close to 100 feet in height.  This is where a major shipping disaster would most likely take place.  It is here that Canada will have to prove its ability to respond to an Exxon Valdez size –or much greater- oil spill disaster.

Not in the quiet waters of Grenville channel – 70 years late.

Ian McAllister is the Executive Director of Pacific Wild, a BC-based wildlife conservation organization. 

ian@pacificwild.org

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  1. #1 by Liz Barrett on November 3, 2013 - 6:47 am

    They are spending 50 Million on cleanup and are using a Dutch Company! Makes me wonder why we cannot clean this up ourselves! That is a real problem for the future if the pipeline ever gets a green light!

    50 million should be given to the Hartley Bay community and anyone else whose waters have been infested and polluted by the ships presence over the last 40 years.

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