A 700,000 ton barge and tug system brought in from Seattle faced a series of challenges in its efforts to lift the Nathan E. Stewart off the ocean floor, the most significant being winter weather in Seaforth Channel, but early this week it was successful.
It is now safely aboard the barge but for the Heiltsuk the work has just begun.
“We are relieved that the dirty tug is off the seafloor and on its way to being removed from Heiltsuk waters, but this is only the beginning for our community,” says Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “After the outside world stops paying attention, the Heiltsuk people are left to clean up the mess.”
After the tug and barge ran aground over a month ago hard questions have been raised over Canada’s readiness for an ocean spill. On Nov. 6, a second barge loaded with sand and gravel sank when it encountered rough seas near the neighbouring community of Klemtu, which is 55 kilometres north of Bella Bella.
The 37-metre tugboat that was towing the barge was not damaged. The four crew members were safe and Transport Canada said there was no risk of environmental damage.
Several media outlets have continued to investigate the cause of the sinking Nathan E. Stewart and the response. The Globe and Mail reported that the audio recordings of the first distress calls confirm the officer in charge of the Nathan E. Stewart refused initial help to be pulled off the rocks, preferring instead to take a gamble and hoping the incoming tide would lift her off.
It didn’t work, and this is just one of many sore points for the Heiltsuk, who have recently lashed out at the federal government, accusing it of breaching the common ground of the “unified command” by withholding initial analytical data arising from early environmental sampling.
“In the very beginning, we made the decision to collaborate,” said Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “We’ve supported the Incident Command System approach to response, and acted with integrity in the expectation that everyone else at the table would do the same. DFO and ECC have clearly missed the message on federal reconciliation.”
Work is ongoing in the channel, with shoreline assessments environmental monitoring and cleanup still taking place daily.
In a twist of irony, Premier Christy Clark, who was in the community during the Royal Visit to showcase the Great Bear Rainforest, has been invited to Buckingham Palace for a recognition ceremony to mark the preservation of the rainforest.
Heiltsuk leadership remain skeptical of Premier Clark’s visit, saying the Premier’s message promoting tourism to the Great Bear region ignores the reality of what their community has experienced for 34 long days of recovery efforts.
Clark said the visit would provide an opportunity to “expand trade with the UK” and “is a real opportunity on British soil to get more attention for the Great Bear Rainforest and really welcome British tourists to our province.”