2008 Jan 18
CAMPOBELLO Members of Save Passamaquoddy Bay/Canada say a ship failure in Head Harbour Passage this past weekend shows the dangers of this narrow passage for the transit of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers.
The group are calling on Transport Canada to investigate the failure of 7,949 tonne Dutch cargo ship Alexandergracht early Saturday morning and say the incident underscores the need for a federal regulation about the transit of LNG tankers through the passage.
Jessie Davies, co-chair of SPB/C said, "Greg Thompson (Conservative MP for the area and federal cabinet minister) has stated that Head Harbour Passage is one of the most dangerous passages in Canada certainly the most dangerous in Eastern Canada. The government needs to take a closer look at the facts surrounding last weekend's incident in order to ensure future safety in this passage."
Davies said this incident highlights the need for the government to introduce a regulation banning LNG tankers from Head Harbour Passage.
"The U.S. Coast Guard said that this incident was a near disaster averted. If this incident was a near disaster with a smaller, empty ship, we are very concerned about the potential for a real disaster if large, full, LNG tankers are moving through this narrow passage."
A spokesman for the Joint Rescue Centre in Halifax said that the vessel, which had 16 people on board, lost power early Saturday morning, dropped anchor, completed repairs, and was then escorted by tug into Eastport.
Petty Officer Jim Malcolm, who is the officer in charge of the Eastport Coast Guard station, said that the vessel lost power and let go its anchor but it was not holding.
"They were continuing to drift so they found a better spot for their anchor. They eventually got under way under their own power and were escorted by tug into Eastport. They were picking up cargo in Eastport," Malcolm said.
Asked if this could have been a disaster he said, "Head Harbour Passage is restricted water and if you lose power in restricted water you could consider it a near disaster.
"In the open ocean you can drift for days but in Head Harbour Passage, if you lose power with winds 25 to 30 knots, in less than 30 minutes it could have gone aground," Malcolm said.
"If their anchor was not able to hold they probably would only have been able to drift for about 30 minutes. They didn't go aground."
Malcolm said this incident proves that the system works and that is why they have harbour pilots on board vessels before they enter Head Harbour Passage and why mariners are trained.
"Everybody in this incident from the Canadian Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Joint Rescue Centre in Halifax did what they were supposed to do and everything was done to keep the vessel from going aground," Malcolm said.
"Mariners are trained. If you are in a restricted waterway and lose power, the first thing you do is drop anchor. If it is not holding then find a better place."
He said there was a coordinated effort to make sure the vessel stayed safe.
"As long as we continue our joint efforts, we can continue to maintain safe passage through Head Harbour Passage," Malcolm said.
However, Dale Nicholson, who witnessed the incident from his home around 6 a.m. Saturday, said what he heard sounded like a ship hitting the ledge.
"I went out on the deck and this ship had never lost its power like they said because it revved up its engine and came off the ledge. There were tugs in front of it with spotlights and they surveyed it for around 20 minutes, then it went in to Eastport," Nicholson said.
"I heard a sound as if the ship had hit ledge. When I went out it was stationary and about eight or 10 minutes later it revved up its engines and it sounded like it came off the ledge. "
Nicholson said he heard a banging sound and when he saw the spotlights he thought the tugs were looking for damage to the vessel.
"I was not on that ship. All I know is that at 6:12 a.m. there was a large noise outside my window and it sounded like a ship going aground," Nicholson said.
"At no point in time did the engines appear dysfunctional, and they appeared to be doing quite well backing up and then they took off. There were other people who heard the sound as well. One person said the ship was there since 3 a.m. There were extremely low tides that morning so it was easy enough to hit a ledge. When they started moving off it sounded like steel coming off ledge and it looked like they examined the ship."
Nicholson said he is concerned at the prospect of large LNG tankers going through Head Harbour Passage.
Another couple who witnessed the incident from their home but did not want to be identified said they also thought the vessel might have been stuck on one of the ledges and they too heard the engines running.
Davies questioned what would have happened had this been a vessel carrying a hazardous cargo such as LNG or if the visibility was not good.
"If you have a boat like this it could have been very serious, but it could have been a catastrophic disaster if it was an LNG tanker. There may be only a small chance of it happening but, if it did, it would be catastrophic," she said.
© 2008 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.
The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB