The Pacific Grizzly is underwater and the cause of her demise is still being investigated.
“At this time, the Harbour Authority is considering this an unfortunate incident,” said Garrett Newkirk, President of the Bella Coola Harbour Authority.
The vessel went down late last week, and it was apparently very quick.
“I check the boat daily or every other day,” said Leonard Ellis, owner. “That particular day I only viewed the boat from the parking lot, but there was no indication anything was wrong.”
Ellis admits the boat needed repairs, but cited financial strain a major obstacle in keeping the vessel up to date. The Pacific Grizzly is a historic vessel, with a 75-foot wooden plank hull. It was built in Vancouver by Boeing in 1936, and Ellis ran a guide-outfitting/hunting business with the Pacific Grizzly for many years, which he said generated $500,000 per year at its height.
“It’s a very large, old, wooden hull vessel that requires a large cash flow to maintain,” he said. “Business just hasn’t been good enough to generate that kind of money.”
Ellis said that he has been trying to deal with the boat for years, having sold it twice at auction only to have both deals fall through, calling the current scenario his “worst nightmare.”
“I can’t just remove it that easily,” he explained. “I tried everything and exhausted all possibilities of trying to sell it. My back’s up against the wall.”
Ellis says there is a variety of possibilities as to why the boat sank, and he isn’t ruling anything out, including foul play by “eco-terrorists.”
“Given it sunk so quickly, I suspect something major may happened to the hull below waterline,” said Ellis. “At that time there was quite a bad wind and rain squall going through the harbour and there was lots of activity. The cause of the sinking is yet to be determined and we will not know anything until we can raise the vessel and inspect the hull for damage.”
Newkirk agrees. “Nothing will be determined until the vessel is brought back up,” he said. “The Harbour has known the vessel is in poor shape, but the Harbour cannot simply ask someone to leave because the vessel looks bad. Derelict vessels are a problem up and down the coast and every single harbour in B.C. is dealing with issues like this. Shearwater Marine has been contracted by the vessel owner to remove the vessel at the owners expense, with work to begin as soon as possible.”
Clean-up efforts were mobilized as soon as the vessel began to sink, with Harbour employee Carl Schooner, volunteers, the Nuxalk Coastal Guardian Watchmen, and Newkirk and Ellis. Authorities were very pleased with the professional response by all involved.
“We used every mop-up and containment boom available to us,” said Newkirk. “The Coast Guard has now taken over the clean up operation and they have said they were very happy with the local response.”
Ellis estimated the tanks were about half-full when the vessel went under, containing about 100 gallons of diesel. He said he believes the containment efforts to stop the diesel from leaking from the vent tanks were successful early on and that no more fuel is leaking from the boat.
The Coast Guard is now supervising the operation and will be working with the owner, who is fully responsible for all clean up costs and the cost of removing the vessel from the harbour.
“The Ministry of Environment Agent is satisfied that there is no Environmental damage and that the situation is under control,” Ellis stated. “The Coast Guard is satisfied as well, and now I have to look at the salvage operation and how to safely remove it from the harbour.”
A barge arrived from Shearwater over the weekend and the vessel is expected to be taken apart by an excavator as a salvage operation and transported out of the harbour.
“We are waiting for the appropriate tides to start the work,” said Ellis. “This is not how I wanted the Pacific Grizzly to end her run.”