[images in on-line article]

Booms fixed after wind spreads diesel fuel from tug sunk near Bella Bella

Spill area home to endangered abalone, clams, sea urchin and juvenile salmon, Heiltsuk First Nation says

By Yvette Brend, CBC News

Posted: Oct 23, 2016 7:32 AM PT Last Updated: Oct 23, 2016 1:50 PM PT

The booms containing spilled diesel from a sunken tug 20 kilometres west of Bella Bella have been fixed, but delays allowed the fuel to spread, along with fears for endangered abalone and other ocean wildlife.

Gale-force winds and three-metre waves hampered efforts to fix the failed booms, but officials say they've replaced the containment system.

It's unclear how much diesel fuel has spilled, but the tug had 220,000 litres on board when it ran aground on Oct.13.

Less than half of that has been recovered, and that's fanned fears the fuel will threaten efforts to reintroduce endangered abalone in the spill area, according to the Heiltsuk First Nation.

A spokeswoman from Kirby Offshore Marine, the tug's owners, say the company worked to reposition and replace the booms as fast as the high winds and battering waves allowed.

But bad weather has stalled fixing the stressed — and in some spots severed — outer boom for the fourth day in a row.

The boom broke free late Friday, releasing diesel fuel which appears like a rainbow shimmer across the water's surface.

Winds of up to 50 knots have spread the fuel as far as a kilometre away, according to a press release from the Heiltsuk First Nation.

Fears are growing that the diesel will spread to Gale Passage, which is a "highly sensitive ecological area," says a release from First Nation.

"In the first week of the spill, we had the largest tides of the month at 17.4 feet," said Heiltsuk aquatics manager Mike Reid.

"Even without bad weather, the speed of tides rushing through the spill site are likely to flush diesel into the area," he said.

Reid is worried about diesel contamination of the passage – an area he believes is vital for a variety of clam species, sea cucumbers, sea urchin, juvenile salmon and herring, eelgrass, kelp and other marine species.

The south end of Gale Passage opens into an important herring spawning area, and the First Nation has been working to recover endangered abalone in the spill area near the sunken tug.

The spokeswoman for the tug's owners says while it is unclear how much fuel has spread into the open water, no damaged wildlife has been detected or captured since the rough weather began Friday.

But Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett says her community is in shock of the incident and is questioning why more seaworthy booms weren't installed.

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