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Russian container ship towed away from B.C. coast; no longer a threat

A photo posted to the Facebook page of Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) Saturday morning, Oct. 18, shows the Canadian Coast Guard ship Gordon Reid towing the Russian cargo ship Simushir. The ocean-going American tug boat Barbara Foss has since a secured a line and taken the ship under tow.
Image Credit: Facebook/Maritime Forces Pacific
October 19, 2014 - 9:20 AM

PRINCE RUPERT - A large tug boat is pulling a disabled Russian cargo ship along British Columbia's coast, ending fears that the vessel carrying hundreds of tons of fuel would drift ashore, hit rocks and spill.

The Canadian Forces' joint rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria says the ocean-going American tug boat Barbara Foss has a secure line attached to the ship.

Acting Sub Lt. Melissa Kia says the owners of the vessel plan to have it taken to Prince Rupert.

Kia says the winds and seas have calmed significantly since Saturday, and at their current speed of seven nautical miles per hour the ships should reach port later Sunday.

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the U.S. Coast Guard vessel Spar are providing escort service.

A mechanical failure left the Simushar drifting in heavy seas Thursday night, sparking fears it could run aground and spill hundreds of tonnes of fuel along the pristine shores of Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel tried towing Simushar Saturday, but the tether kept breaking.

Kia says there have been no such problems since the bigger and better equipped tug took over.

The 10 crew members were trying to repair the broken oil heater that has left the vessel disabled, Royal Canadian Navy Lt. Greg Menzies said.

The president of the Council of the Haida Nation warned Friday that a storm coming into the area was expected to push the ship onto the rocky shore, but President Pete Lantin later said their worst fears had subsided.

"If the weather picks up it could compromise that, but as of right now there is a little sense of relief that we might have averted catastrophe here," Lantin said.

About 5,000 people live on the islands and fish for food nearby, Lantin said.

The Simushir, which is about 440 feet (135 metres) long, was carrying a range of hydrocarbons, mining materials and other related chemicals. That included 400 tons of bunker oil and 50 tons of diesel.

A spokesman for Russian shipping firm Sakhalin Shipping Company or SASCO, the owners of the vessel, said it is carrying 298 containers of mining equipmentin addition to heavy bunker fuel as well as diesel oil for the voyage.

The U.S. Coast Guard had a helicopter on standby in the event that the crew members need to be pulled off the ship. Officials said the injured captain was evacuated by helicopter, but they were given no further medical details.

The Simushir is registered in Kholmsk, Russia and was built in the Netherlands in 1998, according to the company's website.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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